Like many countries, the Russian Federation is upping its space game - pushing space endeavors with big plans for 2022.
But the year didn't exactly start well for Russian space authorities. The touted Angara A5 rocket failed to complete its third test flight.
Putting a Small Dent in Russia's Plans
The Angara A5 rocket is part of Russia's family of Angara rockets. In late December 2021, the heavy-lift rocket made its third test flight from northwestern Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The rocket failed to hit the planned altitude.
In a Twitter statement, Russian space journalist Anatoly Zak said the Angara A5 rocket had reached low Earth orbit before the main engine failed. Zak said Russian space industry officials are investigating the cause of the engine failure.
The Angara A5 is the first heavy-lift launch vehicle officially commissioned by Roscosmos - Russia's government space agency - since the end of the Soviet era about 30 years ago. The first Angara A5 test flight occurred in December 2014 - the vehicle successfully transporting a two-ton mass simulator into geosynchronous orbit.
Not a Bad Track Record
Russian government officials claim the A5 is more eco-friendly than its predecessors. Instead of burning toxic heptyl, the rocket uses kerosene and oxygen. With counterparts in the West pioneering new technologies to help space travel, Roscosmos hopes the Angara A5 will form a building block for Russia's space efforts.
For the first test, authorities mounted a two-ton dummy payload into orbit. Buoyed by its success, Russian authorities set a second test flight for 2016. Supply issues and other delays forced the second test to be pushed back to December 2020.
According to reports, the delays were due to several issues - including demand shortages, production problems, and rising costs. The Russian government had hoped to make Angara A5 its answer to SpaceX's Falcon 9 for commercial launches, but costs had already exceeded $100 million apiece.
Despite delays, the second test was a success. The Angara A5 was able to move a 2.4-ton mass simulator into orbit.
The third launch, also featuring a dummy payload, was the first to test Angara A5's ability to transport the new Persei upper-stage booster. Success would signify the Angara A5 was ready to go. The Russian government had big plans for the vehicle once the test cleared - including flying military payloads and perhaps competing for commercial satellite launch projects.
Initially, the launch went smoothly, the vehicle firing through its first two launch phases as planned. From there, Persei was able to push the vehicle's payloads into low Earth orbit.
It all went wrong during Persei's second firing, which would have moved the payload into geostationary orbit. It didn't go as planned.
A Lot Still Riding on the Rocket
But the Russian government is still celebrating the third test launch. Multiple local news sources heralded it as a success. RT - the state-controlled news service - published a glowing article claiming that the Persei upper-stage booster will help improve Angara A5's performance.
The article noted they are still waiting for the booster to relight, though space industry officials know this won't happen.
In the weeks since the test failure, parts of the Persei booster have fallen back to the planet. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, confirmed in a tweet that the booster spent nine days in space, then fell to Earth as space debris.
For now, the Angara A5 is scheduled for another flight in March. This time, transporting a communications satellite to space. We'll be watching to see how this one flies.