Russia launches first Angara-A5 space rocket from Far East cosmodrome

By Anastasia Teterevleva and Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia on Thursday test-launched its Angara-A5 space rocket for the first time from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Far East, successfully putting a test load in low orbit as part of an effort to develop a new post-Soviet launch vehicle.

The test launch of the Angara-A5, Russia’s first post-Soviet space rocket, was aimed at underscoring Moscow’s ambition to be a major space power and the growing importance of Vostochny, situated in the forests of the Amur region of Russia’s Far East.

But two launches of the Angara rocket were aborted at the very last minute on both Tuesday and Wednesday due to a malfunction of a pressurising system and then a problem with the engine launch-control system.

To the relief of Russian space officials, they were third time lucky on Thursday, just hours before Russia celebrates Cosmonaut Day marking the day 63 years ago that the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man in outer space.

“There is an engine start, the flight is normal,” mission control said as the rocket blasted off to space, reaching more than 25,000 kilometres (15,500 miles) per hour in minutes.

“The fuel tanks detached and then the central section detached and a test load was placed into orbit,” Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said.

“The rocket worked normally,” Roscosmos said. “With this launch, flight design tests of the Amur space rocket complex with Angara heavy-class launch vehicles on Vostochny began.”

The 54.5-metre (178.81-foot) three-stage rocket, with a mass of about 773 tonnes, can carry about 24.5 tonnes into space, according to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper.

The defence ministry is also involved in the project, which Moscow says uses only Russian components and less environmentally damaging fuel and will replace the Proton M as Russia’s heavy-lift rocket, which has been in operation since the mid-1960s.

Russia began the Angara project a few years after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union as a Russian-made launch vehicle that would ensure access to space even without the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which Russia rents from Kazakhstan.

“The creation of the Angara space rocket complex (KRK) is a task of special national importance,” Roscosmos said.

“The commissioning of the Angara spacecraft will allow Russia to launch spacecraft of all types from its territory and provide our country with independent guaranteed access to space.”

The first Angara-A5 test flight took place in 2014, and another followed in 2020, both from Plesetsk in northern Russia. A partial test followed in 2021 that was a failure.

(Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva; editing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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