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Project -> New technology of "Angara-M" reusable launch vehicle family development

Refresh 7 April, 2003


New technology of "Angara-M" reusable launch vehicle family development

The winner competition of scientific - innovational projects of young researchers " Flight in the future - 2004 "

(based on picking up of I stages of reusable boosters by helicopter)

(see detailed version of article in "Cosmonautics news" magazine No.3, 2002)


Realizes works
Use perspectives

Summary (back to contents)

Starting from 1999 Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center together with Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant (MHP) and "Parachute manufacture" scientific research institute review a possibility of development of the "Angara" first stages LV family on the universal rocket module basis. These stages are rescued by the helicopter picking up that permits to transform the "Angara" single use LV family into the reusable LV family.
Thanks to using the new conceptions of reusability and new technical solutions, covered by patent, the integral parameters of the above reusable LV family will exceed the given level of the perspective home and foreign reusable transportation space systems even at the negligible required resource of the reusable boosters equal to only 5 launches.
The following features characterize the main dignities of the "Angara" reusable LV family which is under development now:

  • payload large spectrum (light ones - up to 3.5 t, middle ones - up to 13.5 t, heavy ones up to 23.75 t);
  • short terms of project realization;
  • low cost of research and development works;
  • high succession with "Angara" single LV family;
  • use only of available and tested systems, technology and materials;
  • safety including ecological one.

Description (back to contents)

Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center develops the LV family in frames of the "Angara" project, the main chain of which is the universal rocket module (URM). URM is the basis for the LV boosters construction. The stages consist of one, three or five above boosters depending on the LV load-carrying capacity (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Table 1

Light class

Middle class

Heavy class

Lift-off mass, t




Payload mass in low orbit, t




The development of technology of reentry and reuse of more expensive parts (first stage boosters) will improve considerably the "Angara" LV family economic parameters. This technology will permit significantly (in several times) to decrease the expenses for the payload injection into space. Such technology is the economic advisable one in conditions of the limited financial possibilities at using the technical solutions which ensure the following:

  • maintenance and further development of step-by-step development strategy implemented in "Angara" LV family;
  • high dignity with "Angara" base (single use) LV family;
  • LV high flight technical parameters;
  • minimum expenses for development and experimental testing;
  • minimum technical risk;
  • safety (including ecological one) of experimental testing and operation.

The means set (hence-forth SET) development for ensuring the reusable use of the first stage boosters may be the option of practical realization of technology of reentry and reuse. The conception of this SET includes the division of general task of boosters reentry into the following specific tasks: braking in atmosphere, landing and transportation to cosmodrome. In this case the relatively simple task of braking is placed on the SET onboard part and landing and transportation tasks - on its ground part.
As per the above conception the authors with consultation with the leading specialists from Mil MHP and "Parachute manufacture" scientific research institute developed the SET configuration. This configuration functioning scheme (on "Angara-A5" LV example) is given in Fig. 2. The SET onboard part arrangement is shown in Fig. 3.

Fig. 2

The launch of reusable boosters of 1-t stage as a part of LV (pos. 1 on Fig. 2) is performed from the universal launch facility developed for the "Angara" single use LV family.
As per the flight sequence after completion of their task the boosters are separated from LV through 3.5 min after launch at velocity of 2820 m/sec (mass of each booster is equal to about 10 t at separation moment) (pos. 2 in Fig. 2). Then the reactive control system is ON (pos.3 in Fig. 2) and the stabilization flaps are deviated and fixed in the open position.
During preliminary braking the reactive control system orientates the booster within about 4 minutes that the tail compartment shall be in direction to flight (pos. 4 in Fig. 2) and maintains this orientation up to entering into the dense atmosphere (pos.5 in Fig. 2) where the booster orientation maintenance is realized due to the stabilization flaps and booster braking - due to the flux effect on the thermal protection of the tail compartment and stabilization flaps. The boosters will descend up to altitude of 10 km within about 6…7 minutes after separation from LV where their velocity will be about 200 m/sec.
The scheme of the preliminary braking of the reusable booster is given in Fig. 4.

Fig. 4
H, km; Flaps opening, reactive control system ON; Booster separation from LV; Orientated entering into dense atmosphere, reactive control system OFF; Parachute system activation (impact field of 10x10 km); LV lift-off; t, sec; L, km

The boosters parachuting (pos. 6 in Fig. 2) starts at altitude of 10 km when the parachute system is activated as per the barometric sensor. The scheme of the reusable booster parachuting is given in Fig.5.

Fig. 5
Front compartment fairing; Pilot parachute like parachute system for "Angara 5" LV; "Angara" LV (m 10 t) booster; Pilot parachute chamber; 1. H=1- km, V=180 m/sec. Front compartment fairing is jettisoned and takes out the pilot parachute; Pilot parachute chamber; Brake parachute like parachute system for "Angara 5" LV; 2. Pilot parachute takes out brake parachute; Brake parachute; Rotor (m=50 kg); Catcher; Strand; Main parachute chamber; Main parachute like parachute system for "Soyuz" SS (5 pcs.); 3. V=85 m/sec. Brake parachute takes out strand with catcher and main parachute; Note: 1. After catcher catching by Mi-26 helicopter main parachutes are released from booster and packed. 2. Overloads - not more than 3.5 g; Automatic release; 4. H=3.1 km, V=8 m/sec; Rotor starts its rotation. After that brake parachute is separated.

The pilot and brake parachute systems are the light option of the existed PS developed by "Parachute manufacture " scientific research institute. The main parachute system has five canopies with area of 1000 m2 each and is the main PS of "Soyuz" SS.
The boosters picking up (pos. 7 in Fig. 2) is proposes to realize by helicopter at territory used for the impact zones of the single use boosters of first stages of the "Angara" LV family. The picking up means were designed during works on the SET project. These means permit exclude the serial helicopters modifications for the picking up task. The scheme of the reusable booster picking up is given in Fig. 6.

Fig. 6
4. Rocket module midair towing to landing area; Automatic release; 3. Parachute system and rotor separation; Picking up loop; Main parachute system; 2. Rocket module mechanical catching by Mi-26 helicopter; Brake parachute; Rotor; Catcher; Strand; Booster; 1. Helicopter flight to picking up zone; Mi-26 helicopter.

At the LV lift-off the helicopters are at altitude of 3…3.5 km at boundary of the proposed picking up zones which coordinates may be determined by calculations before the LV launch. The picking up zones coordinates may be specified as per the telemetry reading within 9.5…10.5 min from lift-off and till the parachute system activation.
After parachute system activation the booster picking up zones are specified again and their distribution between the helicopters is realized. The picking up zones coordinate specifying may be done as per the parachute system radio beacon signals.
The navigation satellite system on basis of the Russian Global Navigation satellite system (GLONASS) and American Global Positioning System (GPS) may be used for more accurate determination of the picking up zones coordinated. These systems have the very high indexes of the coordinates and velocity determination accuracy. Khrunichev SRPSC has the experience of using the navigation system on the "Breeze-M" upper stage. This system is based on the GLONASS/GPS satellite signals receiver. It forms the navigation information frame and implement it into the telemetry information current transmitted to the Earth.
The reusable boosters parachute within 8…9 min up to altitude where their velocity will be acceptable for the picking up realization and helicopters correct their position.
The helicopter crew detects the boosters in the picking up zone. The helicopter equalizes the descending velocity with the booster parachute velocity and realizes the booster mechanical catching during manoeuvre in the horizontal plane. The scheme of the mechanical catching of the reusable booster by helicopter is given in Fig. 7.

Fig. 7
Catching loop; Yrotor=150 kgf; rotor; Rotor; Gas generator; Chain; Strand; Catcher; Catcher; Latch.

To make easier the detection process it is possibly to use the "night vision" devices, radio detection means, navigation satellite system etc. That will permit, as expected, to realize the picking up in any time of the day within wide range of the weather conditions.
It is proposed to realize the picking up in the manual regime at the initial phase of the SET operation with the further its automation. It is possible to use the target maintenance system for this.
The booster picking up probability will be not less than 80% as per the preliminary estimation.
The following actions are foreseen for the helicopter and crew maximum safety ensuring at the picking up operations realization:

  • boosters distribution at different altitudes due to individual adjustment of barometric sensors as part of parachute system;
  • using the special destroying elements which ensure booster release from helicopter at loads exceeded the permissible ones;
  • using the booster extraordinary release unit in case of emergency situation.

After the booster mechanical catching by helicopter the booster parachute system is released automatically and the booster is towed to the landing area for putting to the ground and further release from helicopter.
The booster putting to the ground (pos. 8 in Fig. 2) is realized as per the specially developed process which permits to avoid its damage. The landing area may be located near the airport or railway station.
The booster post-flight maintenance is carried out in the landing area and includes the operations for the onboard systems OFF, external inspection< preparation for transportation and arrangement in the transportation container.
The boosters transportation to the cosmodrome (pos. 9 in Fig. 2) may be realized by railway or by air.
The boosters pre-flight maintenance (pos. 10 in Fig. 2) may be done at technical facility developed for the "Angara" single use LV family.
To make easier the diagnostics the descending control system may be equipped with means of data accumulation about environment acted on the booster ("black box").
The LV transportation to the launch facility is realized on the transportation-erection units developed for the "Angara" single use LV family.
After each launch of the middle and heavy LV in order to decrease the required resource of the reusable boosters it is proposed to replace the "old" booster of the first stage on the new one with the further using the universal rocket module of the replaced booster as a part of the central unit which realizes the second stage single use booster functions. Such replacement permits to limit the required resource of the universal rocket module by 5 launches with corresponding profits in the flight technical parameters, adaptability to manufacture, reliability and safety and to reach the maximum possible economic efficiency.

Realizes works (back to contents)

The arrangement analysis (see Fig.3 of "DESCRIPTION") showed the possibility of the boosters equipping by the SET onboard part with the minimum modifications of the universal rocket modules and ground support equipment.
The scheme of the reusable booster preliminary braking (see Fig. 4 Схема предварительного торможения многоразового ускорителя (см. рис. 4 of "DESCRIPTION") was reviewed during the scientific and research work done as per the Khrunichev SRPSC order to increase the impact zones for the "Angara" LV family first stages single use boosters. The results of this work showed that during the atmospheric descending the loads, acting on the booster, may be decreased up to values, permitted for their reuse and boosters impact areas may be decreased up to dimensions of 14х12 km.
The analysis of processes of the parachuted rocket booster catching by Mi-26 helicopter (see Fig. 6 and 7 of "DESCRIPTION") and its putting on the ground in the landing area, carried out by the Mil MHP specialists together with authors and specialists from "Parachute manufacture" scientific research institute showed that the emptied boosters rescue means development may be realized successfully at the financing presence. The official opinion of Mr.A.G.Samusenko, General Designer of Mil MHP, is published in "Cosmonautics News" magazine, No.3, 2003.
Now Khrunichev SRPSC carries out the scientific and research work on the detailed investigations of parameters of the "Angara" LV family first stages reusable boosters saved by the helicopter picking up method. The work is on the finish phase.

Advantages (back to contents)

The suggested process of the emptied boosters descending and reuse will permit to transform the "Angara" single use LV family into the reusable LV family (see Fig. 1 and Table 1 of "Description") by step-by-step increasing of the SET onboard and ground parts structure. So the boosters equipping only by the SET onboard part will permit, at least, to increase essentially the impact zones and simplify the single use boosters utilization increasing the LV ecological parameters. At the initial operation phase Set may be orientated on the multiple using only one booster, for example, light LV with lease only one helicopter. In this case the received additional profits may be used for the SET development in full scope after the expenses compensation (approximately through 5...10 LV launches).
The SET onboard part total mass will not exceed 13% of the single use "dry" mass that predetermines the better flight technical parameters for the reusable LV family which will be practically identical ones to the same parameters for the "Angara" single use LV family (see Table 1 of "Description").
The SET elements development and function main phases experimental testing (including booster simulators parachute, their picking up and putting on the ground in the landing area) may be realized with the minimum expenses, in short time without waiting the LV and its launch and technical facilities commissioning. The SET main feature is the possibility of its flight tests during the LV launches with commercial or federal payloads.
The SET development is connected with the minimum technical risk. So the reusable booster loss during the tests or operation cannot effect essentially on the SET commercial efficiency in general total as its onboard part cost is insignificant. At the SET expensive elements development (helicopters for boosters picking up) the domestic techniques are used without modifications. These techniques are in operation now and have a large experience of using. The boosters use cycles number (up to 5) is quite reachable for today.
As per the preliminary estimation the SET operation cost will be not more than 10% of the boosters manufacture cost that permits to decrease the expenses in 2...3 times for the payloads injection into space.

Use perspectives (back to contents)

The suggested process of the boosters descending and reuse is economic effective one and may be realized in the short time including in the conditions of the space rocket technology. At the same time the conceptual and technical solutions, used in the suggested process, are perspective ones in future as avoid the reusable LV from the systems and weight, energy, processing and operation expenses, connected with these systems which are unusual for it. The process elements may be used for development of the reusable supply transportation vehicles for the orbital space stations supply, payload rescue in the emergency situations during the injection phase etc.

Reference (back to contents)

The objects picking up has the large history of using. As per the "All American Engineering" company information 1.5 mln. operations of picking up the post containers with mass of 22.5 kg, different cargoes with mass of 227 kg, airplanes with mass of up to 5.4 t and gliders with mass of up to 8.2 t by airplanes and helicopters were carried out within period of from 1938 till 1960s. The orbital spacecraft, capsules, nose fairings, helicopters, airplanes and other objects were picked up also. As per "Technol. Week", 1966, Sept., and "Aviation Week", 1966, Sept., No.11 and 12 the air picking up total number is 2 mln
As per "Technol. Week", 1966, 19, No.12, 32 and 34 "All American Engineering" and "Pioneer Parachute" companies realized the program of 5000 picking ups of the parachuted containers with the artificial Earth satellites of the Samos and Discoverer types. The above companies suggested to use the picking up method for the TITAN IIIC LV stages , КК Gemini и Apollo SS with crew and MOL piloted orbital station crew rescue .
The picking up systems reliability is high one. For example, as per "Rech. Spatiale", 1963, 2, No.10 the probability of the Samos intelligence AES parachute containers picking up by the С-130В airplanes was 75-88%. As per "SAE Journal", 1965, 73, No.10 the projects of systems for picking up the parachuted objects (LV stages, transportation SC, piloted AES etc.) (with mass of up to 5450 kg with probability of 99%) by the Lockheed C-141 (Starlifter) airplanes were being developed in 1960s.
The picking up systems were used also in Russia. Gromov LII, Mil MHP and "Parachute manufacture" NII developed and tested the system of picking up the objects with mass of 300-500 kg by the Mi-8T helicopter in 1984. But due to the financing absence all further works were stopped.

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