“Heavy” and “Super Heavy”
Modern Russia, perhaps, does not have a more ambitious space project than creating an extra-heavy launch vehicle, which is considered as an instrument of conquering Mars and the Moon. First you need to understand what such missiles are. In the modern world, the lion's share of government and commercial orders is carried out by medium and heavy class launch vehicles, such as Falcon-9 or Arian-5 (these are all “troubles”). They can launch cargoes weighing more than 20 tons into a low reference orbit. It's a lot. Do not forget that there is a tendency to create very light mini and nano-satellites. For their launch, you can generally use an ultralight carrier such as the cheap New Zealand Electron.
In current realities, super-heavy missiles such as Falcon Heavy and the promising SLS (Space Launch System) are needed to solve a narrow range of tasks associated with a very large load. For example, the Falcon Heavy portfolio of orders comprises five starts, plus several hypothetical launches in the future. Not much. Frankly speaking, Falcon Heavy will not be able to conquer the market, because there is no market as such. For a large country that has money for space, in general, it is enough to have carriers of three classes: light, medium and heavy. In turn, the superheavy class carrier most closely resembles the Rolls-Royce: a status and very expensive toy. Which in most cases is not needed.
Nevertheless, there is one direction where it will not be possible to do without superheavy media. This is deep space exploration. To launch a large spacecraft to Mars or even the Moon, the capabilities of a conventional rocket will no longer be enough. It will be necessary, at a minimum, to “link” several stages of a heavy-class carrier, having received, in fact, a new superheavy rocket. Complicated and expensive.
Race against the wind
In the current realities of extremely unstable energy prices, it could be assumed that Russia would "slaughter" the project of an extra-heavy rocket. But that did not happen. At the beginning of December last year, it became known that the choice of the technical appearance of the Russian superheavy rocket of the future started. And in January, the current head of Roscosmos - Dmitry Rogozin - said that the name of the future rocket was chosen. Now all the prospects for the development of Russia's far-off cosmic boundaries will be associated with the name "Yenisei". “Today, a detailed schedule has been signed for the creation of an extra-heavy class launch vehicle (Yenisei class) by 2028. Developers - RSC Energia named after S.P. Koroleva (Moscow region), RCC "Progress" (Samara), Center named after M.V. Khrunicheva (Moscow) - in terms of creating the third stage, ”Rogozin said on his Twitter. The Yenisei, of course, is a large and powerful river, but the association is strange, especially after the story of the sunken satellites. However, these are all the nuances. Much more important are the characteristics of the future product.
Here is what is known today. The project is expected to use a three-stage scheme. The capacity of the launch vehicle will be 103 tons. Six side blocks, which will be equipped with RD-171MV engines, act as the first stage. They will be modified versions from the first stage of the Irtysh rocket (aka Soyuz-5). That is, the previously expressed assumptions were confirmed that the “super-heavy” will be a kind of bunch of promising “Unions”. About how Falcon Heavy became, in fact, several Falcon 9, which are combined into one.
The second stage is now seen as one unit with an RD-171MV or RD-180 engine. Finally, according to the data presented earlier, they intend to take the third stage from Angara-A5V. On the upper stage, it is possible to use two RD-0146 engines or two RD-0150 engines.
Recall that the RD-171MV is a modernized version of the RD-170 engine, the development of which started back in the 70s. RD-171 is used for Zenit launch vehicles. It is important to note that by the time of the missile's flight tests, scheduled for 2028, the RD-180 and RD-171MV engines are likely to become obsolete. Recall that they all use a kerosene / liquid oxygen fuel pair, which looked great ten years ago. But now there is a tendency towards a transition to a potentially more successful pair - liquid methane / liquid oxygen. Recall that it is precisely her that Elon Musk wants to use on his new Raptor engine, with which SpaceX associates its main aspirations. Some other rocket scientists also took this path, and in Russia they recognized that it was the most correct one.
Another problem is the price. In January of this year, it became known that Roscosmos set a task to meet a trillion rubles when developing and creating the first Yenisei model. Needless to say, the total amount can increase and well, if not at times. Superheavy rockets are generally a very expensive pleasure.
It is appropriate to recall here that, according to still old media reports, the Federal Space Program (FKP) for 2016–2025 has greatly “lost weight”. Several years ago, such programs as “Creation of a lunar take-off and landing complex”, “Creation of a lunar orbital station”, “Creation of a lunar base”, “Creation of a lunar spacesuit”, “Creation of a robotic support system on the Moon” were deleted from it. Roughly speaking, this is a kind of Pearl Harbor for Russia's lunar ambitions. And the landing of the first Russian astronauts, at least, was postponed indefinitely.
The situation with the Yenisei carrier is frankly phantasmagoric. Russian engineers are working on a fantastically expensive, incredibly complex and very risky project, which will be out of date by the time of its birth. And this despite the fact that he, as such, is not too necessary.
We can consider a conditionally optimistic scenario, but it will only give rise to new uncomfortable questions. Even if the rocket appears by 2030, it will most likely have to invent new missions for it. In the current conditions, when Roskosmos has to literally survive, this approach seems, to put it mildly, illogical.
The development of an Earth satellite together with the partners of Russia would have looked much more correct. For example, within the framework of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway - a promising orbital station around the Moon, where the existing Angara-A5 could be useful. To implement these plans, however, it is necessary to maintain good relations with Western colleagues, and especially with the Americans, who will play the role of the “first violin” in this project. There is a risk, but it is much better than completely unrealizable illusions. For which, moreover, you have to pay dearly. In the literal sense of the word.