2014 was a banner year for the Russian Space Agency, with a record-setting fourteen launches of the next generation unmanned Soyuz-2 rocket. A number of other firsts took place in the course of the year as well, cementing the Soyuz family of rockets as the most flown and most reliable rocket group ever.
But already it seems as though the new year will be an even better year, with a full 20 missions already scheduled to take place, a number of them holdovers from 2014.
The Soyuz 2 launcher currently operates alongside the Soyuz-U (mainly used for launching the unmanned Progress Resupply Spacecraft to the International Space Station) and the Soyuz FG (primarily used for human flights with the Soyuz Spacecraft for missions to ISS), but according to Spaceflight 101, the Soyuz 2 will eventually replace the other vehicles once they are phased out.
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In fact, in October of 2014, the Soyuz 2 had its first launch of a Progress cargo spacecraft. Other achievements were that the last two launches of the year were conducted without the aid of DM blocks – a derivative of the Blok D upper stage launch rocket developed during the 1960’s.
As Leonid Shalimov, the CEO of NPO Avtomatiki, the Russian electronic engineering and research organization, said in an interview with the government-owned Russian news agency TASS: “Fourteen launches of Soyuz-2 were carried out in 2014 – a record number in the company history,” he said. “Meanwhile, a total of 19 launches were planned in the outgoing year, five have been postponed till 2015.”
As a leader in the development of radio-electronic equipment and rocket space systems, the company is behind the development of a number of automated and integrated control systems that are used in space, at sea, heavy industry, and by oil and natural gas companies.
However, it is arguably the company’s work with Soyuz-2 rockets that has earned the most attention. As a general designation for the newest version of the rocket, the Soyuz-2 is essentially a three-stage rocket carrier and will be used to transport crews and supplies into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Compared to previous generations of the rocket, the Soyuz-2 features updated engines with improved injection systems on the first-stage boosters, as well as the two core engine stages.
Unlike previous incarnations, the Soyuz-2 can also be launched from a fixed launched platform since they are capable of performing rolls while in flight to change their heading. The old analog control systems have also been upgraded with a new digital flight control and telemetry systems that can adapt to changing conditions in mid-flight.
In total, some 42 launches of this rocket have taken place over the past decade, the first taking place on November 8th, 2004 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome – located about 200 km outside of Archangel.
The majority of launches were for the sake of deploying weather, observation and communication satellites.
You can see a full list of Soyuz launches and missions scheduled for 2015 here at the RussianSpaceWeb.
Long-term, the Soyuz-2 is also expected to play a key role in Russia’s plan for a manned lunar mission, which is tentatively scheduled to take place in 2028.
Further Reading: TASS