2015 Expected to be a Record-Breaking Year for Soyuz-2 Workhorse

A Soyuz-2 rocket lifts off from Kourou on April 3, 2014, with Sentinel-1A satellite. Credit: ESA

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.

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.”

Soyuz-2 rocket preparing to launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in June, 2013. Image Credit: Russian Space News
Soyuz-2 rocket preparing to launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in June, 2013. Image Credit: Russian Space News

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.

Russia is developing a new generation Advanced Crew Transportation System. Its first flight to the Moon is planned for 2028. Credit: TASS
The Advanced Crew Transportation System, a next-generation reusable craft intended for a Russian lunar mission in 2028. Credit: TASS

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

Two Workers Killed at Russian Launch Facility

Main service gantry of the Angara pad in Plesetsk under construction in April 2013. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense, via Russian Space Web.

Reports coming out of Russia say that two people were killed at the Plesetsk space launch facility last week while doing routine work cleaning out a propellant tank. The Russian newspaper Ria Novosti said that on November 9, 2013, two workers were killed and three others were hospitalized after being exposed to poisonous nitrogen vapors while doing maintenance at the facility. Officials from the Russia Defense Ministry were quoted as saying the accident appeared to have been caused by failure to follow safety regulations.

The Plesetsk cosmodrome is located in the northwestern Arkhangelsk province. The facility has been undergoing refurbishing to take over a majority of the launches as Russia looks to reduce reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome, which it leases from the former Soviet nation of Kazakhstan.

Currently, Russia uses Plesetsk to test intercontinental ballistic missile and to launch satellites, but they are hoping to use new facilities by next year to test the Angara heavy rocket.

Ria Novosti said it was unclear what accounted for the delay between the incident and its announcement, “but sensitive military issues are typically kept highly confidential in Russia.”

Unfortunately, over 50 people have been killed at this launch facility since 1973. In June of 1973, 9 people were killed by an explosion of Cosmos-3M rocket; in March of 1980, 48 people were killed by an explosion of a Vostok-2M rocket with a Tselina satellite, during a fueling operation; and in October of 2002, a Soyuz-U carrying the ESA Foton-M1 project failed to launch and exploded, killing one.

Right now, just one-fourth of Russia’s launches occur from within Russia itself, but Russia’s Federal Space Agency hope to have nine-tenths of its space launches from Plesetsk and the Vostochny cosmodrome by 2030.

Sources: Ria Novosti, Russian Space Web