Reusable launch vehicle projects in Russia: do they have a future?

The space industry is one of the most high-tech, and its condition largely characterizes the general level of development of industry and technology in the country. The existing space achievements of Russia are for the most part based on the achievements of the USSR. At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the capabilities of the USSR and the USA in space were approximately comparable. In the future, the situation with space in the Russian Federation began to gradually deteriorate.

Apart from the services for the delivery of American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), which arose due to the US refusal of the expensive Space Shuttle program, Russia is inferior to the United States in everything: there are practically no successful large scientific projects comparable to sending rovers and deploying orbiting telescopes or sending spacecraft to distant objects in the solar system. The rapid development of private commercial companies has led to a significant reduction in the share of Roscosmos in the space launch market. Russian-supplied RD-180 engines in the US will soon replace the American BE-4 from Blue Origin.

Russian RD-180 engine and American BE-4, working on a methane + oxygen fuel pair

In the coming year, the United States will most likely refuse the services of Russia as a “space cab” by completing tests of its own manned spacecraft (three manned spacecraft are being developed at once).

Promising US manned spacecraft SpaceX Dragon V2, Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser (the latter dropped out of the NASA competition, but it may well be implemented on an initiative basis)

The last point of contact between the United States and Russia remains the ISS, whose life is nearing its end. If any domestic or international project with Russian participation is not implemented, then the stay of Russian cosmonauts in orbit will become extremely episodic.

The main established trend, which in the near future should lead to a significant reduction in the cost of putting payloads into orbit, is the creation of reusable rockets. To some extent, this is already happening: the stated goal of SpaceX is to reduce the cost of putting goods into orbit by ten times, and at the moment it has managed to bring down the price by about a half.

It must be understood that reusable rocket science in its present form (with the return of the first stage) is at the initial stage of development. Judging by the interest shown by other commercial companies in this area, the area can be considered extremely promising. A breakthrough in this direction may be the emergence of a two-stage launch vehicle (LV) BFR with full reusability of both stages and the expected reliability of flights at the level of modern airliners.

The Russian space industry also has several projects of reusable launch vehicles of varying degrees of sophistication.


One of the most actively promoted reusable missile projects is Baikal-Angara. The promising module "Baikal" is a reusable accelerator (MRU) of the first stage of the Angara launch vehicle, developed at the GKNPC them. Khrunicheva.

MRU "Baikal"

Depending on the class of the rocket (light, medium, heavy), one, two or four reusable Baikal boosters should be used. In the light version, the Baikal accelerator, in fact, is the first step, which brings the Angara rocket concept in this version closer to the SpaceX Falcon-9 concept.

Reusable launch vehicle projects in Russia: do they have a future?

LV Angara A1-V based on the Baikal MRU

A feature of the reusable Baikal accelerator is a return carried out by airplane. After undocking, Baikal unfolds a rotary wing in the upper part of the hull and lands on the airfield, while maneuvering at a distance of about 400 km can be carried out.

Presentation of the Baikal project

The project is criticized because of its greater complexity and potentially lower efficiency compared to the vertical landing used in foreign projects. According to Roscosmos, a horizontal landing pattern is necessary to ensure the possibility of returning to the launch site, but the same possibility is stated for the BFR. And the first stages of the Falcon-9 LV are no more than 600 km away from the launch site, that is, landing sites for them can be equipped at a relatively short distance from the launch site.

Another disadvantage of the Baikal MRU + Angara launch vehicle concept is that in the medium and heavy version only accelerators return, the first stage (central unit) of the LV is lost. And landing at the same time four MRU when starting a heavy version of the launch vehicle can cause difficulties.

Against the background of the development of the Baikal-Angara project, statements by the general designer of the Angara rocket family Alexander Medvedev look strange. According to him, the rocket can land using jet engines on retractable supports, like the Falcon-9. Retrofitting the first stages of the Angara-A5В and Angara-A3В LVs with landing supports, a landing control system, additional thermal protection systems and additional fuel will increase their weight by approximately 19 percent. After refinement, Angara-A5B will be able to remove tons of 26-27 tons from Vostochny Cosmodrome, and not 37 tons, as in a one-time version. In the case of the implementation of this project, the cost of cargo removal using the "Hangar" should decrease by 22-37%, while the maximum allowable number of launches of the first stages of the launch vehicle is not indicated.

Considering the statements of the representatives of Roscosmos about the possibility of creating the Soyuz-7 launch vehicle in cooperation with the S7 Space company in the reusable version, we can conclude that the final design of the reusable launch vehicle in Russia has not yet been decided. Nevertheless, the Baikal switchgear project is being gradually developed. Its development is carried out by the experimental machine-building plant named after V. M. Myasishchev. The test horizontal flight of the demonstrator is planned in 2020, then a speed of the order of 6,5 M should be achieved. In the future, the MRU will be launched from a balloon, from an altitude of 48 km.

The concept of the test apparatus of the MRU "Baikal"


In September of 2018, Igor Radugin, first deputy general designer and chief designer of launch vehicles for the Energia rocket and space corporation, who led the development of the new Russian Soyuz-5 launch vehicle and Yenisei superheavy rocket, resigned and went to work to the private company S7 Space. According to him, the S7 Space company plans to create a Soyuz-7 rocket on the basis of the Soyuz-5 single-use rocket being developed by Roscosmos, which, in turn, is the ideological heir to the successful Soviet Zenit rocket.

Soyuz-5 launch vehicle

As in the Falcon-9 rocket, in the Soyuz-7 rocket it is planned to carry out the return of the first stage using rocket-dynamic maneuver and vertical landing using rocket engines. It is planned to develop a version of Soyuz-7SL for the Sea Launch platform. It is planned to use the proven RD-7 engine (most likely its modification RD-171МВ), which can be reused up to twenty times (171 flights and 10 burns) as the Soyuz-10 LV engine. S7 Space plans to implement its development over the course of 5-6 years. At present, Soyuz-7 launch vehicle can be considered the most realistic reusable launch vehicle project in Russia.


The Lin Industrial company is designing the Teiya ultra-small suborbital rocket, designed to take off to the conditional 100 km space border with subsequent return.

The reusable suborbital launch vehicle Teia

Despite the modest characteristics of the project, it can provide the technology needed to create higher-performance launch vehicles in the future, all the more so as Lin Industrial is simultaneously developing a project for the Taimyr one-time ultra-small launch vehicle.

Launch vehicle Taimyr


One of the most interesting and innovative projects can be considered a reusable single-stage launch vehicle with vertical take-off and landing "Corona", which was developed by the State Rocket Center (GRC) named after Makeev in the period from 1992 to 2012 year. As the project developed, many options of the Korona LV were considered, until the most optimal final version was formed.

The developed versions of the Korona launch vehicle

The final version of the Korona rocket is designed to launch payloads of 6-12 tons mass into low Earth orbit about 200-500 km high. Launch mass of the launch vehicle is expected in the region of 280-290 tons. As the engine, it was proposed to use a wedge-air liquid rocket engine (LRE) using a hydrogen + oxygen fuel pair. As thermal protection it is supposed to use the improved thermal protection of the Buran orbital spacecraft.

The axisymmetric conical shape of the hull has good aerodynamics when driving at high speeds, which allows the Korona launch vehicle to land at the launch point. This, in turn, allows launching the Korona launch vehicle from both land and offshore platforms. During the descent in the upper atmosphere, the vehicle performs aerodynamic braking and maneuvering, and at the final stage, when approaching the landing site, it turns aft down and lands using a rocket engine on the built-in shock absorbers. Presumably, the Korona LV can be used up to 100 times, when replacing individual structural elements every 25 flights.

The concept of the reusable Corona launch vehicle

According to the developer, to enter the trial operation phase it will take about 7 years and 2 billion dollars, not so much for the possibility of obtaining such a revolutionary complex.

Currently, the GRTS them. Makeev can be considered one of the most competent enterprises in the field of rocket science, which retained its maximum potential after the collapse of the USSR. It was they who created one of the most effective Sineva intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and they were entrusted with the creation of the Sarmat ICBM, which replaces the famous Satan. The completion of the creation of the Sarmat ICBM in the 2020-2021 year opens up the opportunity to attract them. Makeeva to space projects.

Speaking about the shortcomings of the Corona project, we can assume that this will primarily be the need to create infrastructure for the delivery and storage of liquid hydrogen, as well as all the problems and risks associated with its use. It is possible that the best solution would be to abandon the one-stage scheme of the Korona LV and to implement a two-stage, fully reusable methane fuel complex. For example, based on the RD-169 oxygen-methane engine under development or its modifications. In this case, the first stage could be used separately to output a specific payload to a height of the order of 100 km.

On the other hand, liquid hydrogen, like rocket fuel, is most likely to go nowhere. In many projects, depending on whether methane is the first stage or kerosene, hydrogen-oxygen engines are used on the second stage. In this context, it is appropriate to recall three-component engines, such as, for example, the two-mode three-component RD0750 engine developed by the Design Bureau of Chemical Automation (KBHA). In the first mode, the RD0750 engine runs on oxygen and kerosene with the addition of 6% hydrogen, in the second - on oxygen and hydrogen. Such an engine can also be implemented for a hydrogen + methane + oxygen bond and it is possible that this will be even simpler than in the case with kerosene.

RD0750 Dual-Mode Three-Component Engine

“Baikal-Angara”, “Soyuz-7” or “Crown”?

Which of these projects could be the first Russian reusable missile? The project "Baikal-Angara", in spite of its publicity, can be considered the least interesting. Firstly, the long-standing fuss with the Angara family launch vehicle itself is already leaving its mark, and secondly, the concept of returning MRS by aircraft also raises many questions. If we talk about the easy version, when the MDI is actually the first stage, then it’s still wherever it goes, and if we talk about medium and heavy variants with two / four MRI and the loss of the first and second stages, the idea looks very strange. Talk about the vertical landing of the Angara launch vehicle is likely to remain such, or will be realized when the rest of the world is already flying on antigravity or antimatter.

The creation of the reusable version of the Soyuz-7 LV by the private company S7 Space in cooperation with Roscosmos seems more optimistic, especially since the designed superheavy Yenisei LV will be created on the same engines, which will potentially allow the transfer of reusable technologies to it . Nevertheless, recalling the epic with the "E-mobile", and this project can go to landfill stories. Another issue is the initial use of oxygen-kerosene engines in the Soyuz-5, Soyuz-7 and Yenisei LV projects. The advantages and prospects of methane as a rocket fuel are obvious, and it is necessary to concentrate efforts on the transition to this technology - the creation of a throttle refillable methane rocket engine, instead of creating the next "most powerful in the world" oxygen-kerosene engine, which will cease to be relevant through 5-10 years .

RD0162 Methane LPRE, developed by KBHA, on the basis of which the creation of RD-169 is planned

The project “Crown” in this situation can be considered as a “dark horse”. As mentioned above, the GRC them. Makeeva has high competencies, and with appropriate funding, she could well have created a reusable single-stage or two-stage launch vehicle in the period from 2021 to 2030, after the completion of work on the Sarmat ICBM. Of all the possible options, the Corona project could potentially become the most innovative, capable of creating a reserve for the next generation of launch vehicles.

The appearance of the reusable Falcon-9 booster rocket showed that a new battle for space has begun, and in this battle we began to rapidly lag behind. There is no doubt that having gained unilateral advantages in the US space, and it is possible that China will also begin its rapid militarization after him. The low cost of putting payloads into orbit, provided by reusable launch vehicles, will make space attractive for commercial sector investments, which will further boost the space race.

In connection with the foregoing, I would like to hope that the leadership of our country realizes the importance of developing space technology in the context of, if not civilian, then at least military use, and invests the necessary funds in the development of advanced space technologies, and not in the construction of another stadium or amusement park, ensuring appropriate control over their intended use.
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