Recently, the flow of new information about a promising Russian launch vehicle is only increasing. This is not difficult to understand: there are no other hopes for a revival of the space industry. However, even this one may turn out to be ephemeral.
The alignment of forces in the launch market
The personality of Mask and his SpaceX company can be treated differently: to idolize or vice versa, to criticize for frequent postponements. But the fact remains: now the Falcon 9 heavy launch vehicle is the most demanded in the space rocket launch market. The announced price of launching a commercial satellite weighing up to 5,5 tons into geo-transition orbit is 62 million US dollars. For comparison, the launch price of the heavy European Ariane 5 can reach 220-240 million dollars, depending on requirements and load. Located in the same class, the Russian Proton-M, which at one time favorably differed in price, is now losing the Falcon 9 in value, although not as much as the Arian 5.
The latter "takes" reliability, customers from all over the planet trust him, which can not be said about the new "Angara-A5", behind which there are only a few launches. And this is at twice the price than the Proton-M. The creator - the Khrunichev Center - promises to reduce the cost, but, as they say, to promise does not mean to get married. And things have been going on in this organization recently, to put it mildly, not very well.
These facts are well known and have been discussed many times. What is more interesting is another: why did this happen? The answer is both complex and simple. Progress cannot be stopped, and if the design school does not develop, competitors will sooner or later overtake it. And the point here is not at all about the notorious returning first stage (although about it too). Even without this concept, the Falcon 9 would be a highly sought after and modern rocket. A more significant role in its success was played by new methods of management and the organization of labor, the zeal of the Mask himself for the goal and support (or, rather, not an obstacle) from the state, and some other factors. And the creators of Falcon 9 have chosen a very successful monoblock scheme, which reduces the cost of the missile and simplifies its preparation for launch. Consisting of many modules "Angara" is obviously more complicated. The same applies to a number of other launch vehicles - direct competitors of the creation of the Mask.
In conditions of financial reductions that have become almost familiar in recent years, the position of Roscosmos can be described as very difficult. Leadership in the number of space rocket launches has long been lost, and the Americans may soon stop paying for space for astronauts by reorienting themselves to their own manned spacecraft. There is no doubt that they will soon put into operation "Orion", "Dragon" V2 and "Starliner" (CST-100). And then even the strange "Dream Chaser" can catch up.
In this regard news about the development in the bowels of RSC Energia of the Soyuz-5 rocket has become a kind of ray of light. In short, this booster should become very economical a two-stage middle-class missile that can bring up to 17 tons of payload into low Earth orbit. This is quite enough for the lion's share of commercial orders.
Let the name not be confusing: before us is not the next version of the “Union”, but a completely new product. The creators, however, used the developments on the Soviet “Zenith” and the unrealized project “Rus”, which is quite logical. Many experts, including Mask, consider Zenit to be the best domestic launch vehicle.
The first stage of the new rocket will receive the RD-171MV mid-flight engine, and the second - two RD-0124M. No revolution is planned here: Soyuz-5 will use the familiar fuel pair kerosene-liquid oxygen. The creation of full-fledged Russian methane engines, which experts now consider the most promising area, is still far away. By the way, SpaceX rockets also use the Merlin kerosene yet, but this is for now. For the new Big Falcon Rocket, the methane "Raptor" is already in full swing. Similarly, in the case of Blue Origin and its BE-4 engine, which they intend to apply for several types of missiles at once.
Reusability is also not planned, although it was previously stated that Energy is also working on this option on an initiative basis. It is important to understand here that, having no experience in creating partially reusable rockets (which is huge for SpaceX and Blue Origin), it is impossible to make an active launch vehicle with a returnable first stage from scratch. This requires many years of trial and error. And, of course, good funding. Together with a clear understanding of what you want to get in the end and what it will be used for.
It is noteworthy that some experts called the developer company a potential advantage of Soyuz-5 over Angara. Like, mired in scandals and in a state of reorganization, the Khrunichev Center is no longer capable of anything, but RSC Energia can fully manifest itself. In fact, this is only a fraction of the truth. The situation in the GKNPTS named after M.V. Khrunicheva is not unique and in many respects reflects the general state of the rocket and space industry in the post-Soviet space. When there is not enough funding, there are no goals and there is no prestige of such work. And there are clumsy state corporations that even survive with great difficulty.
A more real argument in favor of Soyuz-5 is the Russian-Kazakh project Baiterek, which requires a new middle-class launch vehicle. “Proton” is unsafe from the environmental side, the option with the Ukrainian “Zenith” was de facto covered. So there are not so many options.
The old Soyuz is better than the new two
It is noteworthy that the rocket itself was actively criticized even before its birth. And it’s not about “childhood diseases” inherent in any new technology. The question is more serious. Back in September 2016, they signed a contract involving the acquisition of Sea Launch by S7 Group. Also on the same day, a cooperation contract was signed between S7 Group and RSC Energia. It was supposed to receive a new economical missile to replace the Zenith, assembled at the Ukrainian enterprise Yuzhmash. From the outside, everything looked beautiful, but recently, the director general of S7 Space Transport Systems, Sergey Sopov, said that Soyuz-5 would become an expensive, grown and thickened version of the Zenit rocket. In his opinion, by 2022, when they plan to carry out the first launch, the launch vehicle is already out of date and can only bring Sea Launch losses.
This is a powerful argument, but there are others, no less significant. At the end of May it became known that the price of the Soyuz-5 development for the month increased by 14% and now amounts to 61,19 billion rubles. In total, according to RBC, over the year the rocket more than doubled in price: in the summer of 2017, Roskosmos reported that 30 billion rubles had been allocated for the creation. In addition, Soyuz-5 is criticized from a purely conceptual point of view. According to the supervisor of the Space Institute policy Ivan Moiseev, the creation of new missiles in Russia is "doubtful." “We have a well-known number of cargoes that we export, and it does not grow stably,” the specialist noted.
In general, there are so far more cons versus pros. In such circumstances, Roscosmos should have an example of the Angara, which managed to become obsolete before the first start and was not needed.