Move Over, Musk: Russia’s Reusable Winged Carrier Rocket to Fly Like Plane

The first stage of the Russian reusable carrier rocket will be winged to enable it to return to a spaceport like an ordinary plane.


The first stage of the Russian reusable carrier rocket will be winged to enable it to return to a spaceport like an ordinary plane.

MOSCOW  Russian space agency Roscosmos is ready to begin the development of a flying prototype of a reusable first stage of a carrier rocket.

“The department for reusable space launch vehicles has been restored. It happened just a month ago. We invited the people who used to work on the Buran [space shuttle]. The department is headed by Pavel Lekhov, one of the designers of the Energia-Buran system,” Roscosmos General Designer Alexander Medvedev was quoted as saying by the Russian Izvestia newspaper.

It is planned that the first stage of the carrier rocket will be winged to enable it to return to a spaceport like an ordinary plane, according to the news outlet.

The idea for a winged first stage of a carrier rocket has been in the works in Russia for some 20 years, according to Medvedev.The first stage of the rocket is the most expensive to manufacture since it is equipped with boosters that define its missile capabilities, the newspaper explained. The cost of building the first stage of a rocket varies between $10 to $70 million.

Roscosmos is a state corporation responsible for overseeing and implementing comprehensive reforms to the Russian space industry.

US to Buy Eight Russian RD-181 Rocket Engines

RD-181 engines


The US company Orbital Sciences Corporation will buy eight RD-181 liquid rocket engines from Russia’s Energomash.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The US company Orbital Sciences Corporation will procure eight Russian-made RD-181 rocket engines, Russia’s space and rocket engine company, Energomash, said Wednesday.

“Orbital Sciences Corporation decided to realize the option for the procurement of eight RD-181 liquid rocket engines from Energomash. The option is to be realized within a contract signed in 2014 on the RD-181 delivery for use in the first stages of the carrier rockets Antares [produced] by Orbital Corporation,” the Energomash’s statement reads.

The Russian manufacturer added that last month representatives of the US company visited Russia and highly estimated the quality management system in place at Energomash.

In 2015, Energomash delivered four such engines to the United States, according to the statement.

At the time of signing the contract worth around $1 billion in December 2014, Orbital said they had looked at several other propulsion providers but had decided to use the RD-181 engines because the Russia-designed engine offered “the best combination of schedule availability, technical performance and cost parameters as compared to other possible options.”The RD-181 deal is the second large-scale deal Energomash has made with a US company. In the late 1990s, the company won a contract with United Launch Alliance to supply RD-180 engines for Atlas rockets. This contract, also valued at about $1 billion, is still in place.

The US imposed sanctions on Russia on the pretext of the Donbass conflict and the purchase of the engines was prohibited; however, Washington had to remove them from the list as they proved indispensable for US space flights.


Ban on Russian-Made Rocket Engines Could Leave US Space Program in Limbo

RD-180 rocket engine


The US government shouldn’t make a hasty decision and stop the use of the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines; otherwise it would hinder US access to space, Senator Richard Shelby wrote for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Some members of the US Congress, led by Senator John McCain, are against the fact that the US Air Force relies on RD-180 engines, imported from Russia, to get to space. McCain, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argues that Washington should stop buying the RD-180, a cost-effective booster engine with unique features, which powers he Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.

However, Shelby argued that stopping the use of Russian rocket engines immediately would limit US access to space.

“If we do so hastily, the result could leave our military in a dangerous predicament,” Shelby said, as cited by the WSJ.

According to Shelby, the Russian-made engine should be used until a reliable US alternative would become available.By seeking to ban the RD-180, McCain wants to “eliminate competition” for his personal friend Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX. If McCain’s proposal passes it would give SpaceX, which in the past had many delays, technical failures and crashes, a monopoly on national security measures. It’s also worth noting that SpaceX is yet to launch a single mission to space, Shelby explained.

Everyone knows McCain is not particularly fond of Russia and President Vladimir Putin, but if he genuinely wants to ban Russian imports, why doesn’t he ban other items from Russia — for example, ammunition, oil and petroleum products?


Washington Left in the Dust: Russia Flies Strategic Space Warfare Missile

Surveillance Satellite


Moscow carried out the first successful flight test of its new anti-satellite missile last month, becoming just the second nation to arm its military with space warfare weapons.

Russia’s direct ascent anti-satellite missile, known as Nudol, was successfully tested on November 18, according to defense officials familiar with reports of the test. It was the first successful test in three attempts, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Russia now joins China as the only nations with strategic space warfare weapons. In October, China conducted a flight test of its anti-satellite missile, the Dong Neng-3 direct ascent missile.

Analysts say anti-satellite missiles could cripple US intelligence, navigation, and communications capabilities that are critical for both military operations and civilian infrastructure.

The Russian test is a concern for Washington, Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, told the paper.

“As President Obama cuts our defense budget and seeks to ally with Putin, the Russians continue to develop their technological abilities to weaponize space and to take out our national technical means – kinetically and through cyber,” said Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

“We can foolishly turn a blind eye to these developments, or acknowledge this threat and develop our own capabilities to ensure that our satellites – military and commercial – are not susceptible to attack or blackmail.”

Former Pentagon official Mark Schneider said the Russian test highlights the failure of the United States to prepare for space warfare.

“There is an enormous asymmetry in play regarding space weapons,” said Schneider, now with the National Institute for Public Policy.

“For decades the Congress has prevented the US from putting weapons in space and even developing a ground-based ASAT capability,” Schneider said. “There is no such constraint upon the Russians and Russia violates arms control treaties when this is in their interest to do so and they find ample opportunity to do this.”

A February 2015 unclassified Defense Intelligence Agency report to the Congress stated that “Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to deny US use of space in the event of a conflict,” Schneider added.


Russian Defense Satellite Successfully Separates From Soyuz Rocket Carrier

Start of the carrier rocket Soyuz-2.1b with the new 'Glonass-K' satellite  from Plesetsk Cosmodrome

According to the ministry, Russia’s Frigate rocket booster carrying a state-of-the-art Defense Ministry satellite successfully separated from its Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket.


Russia’s Frigate rocket booster carrying a state-of-the-art Defense Ministry satellite successfully separated from its Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket minutes after launch, the ministry said Tuesday.

The Soyuz-2.1b rocket was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the country’s northwest at 06:34 GMT on Tuesday.

“The spacecraft’s ascent to a calculated orbit with the help of the Frigate upper stage rocket will take several hours,” a ministry representative told RIA Novosti.

The launch from Plesetsk in the Arkhangelsk Region is the fourth this year using a Soyuz-2 carrier rocket.