A year after its last launch, Russia's newest rocket lifted off again — and things didn't go entirely according to plan.
The third test flight of the Angara A5 rocket took off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia on Monday (Dec. 27). The launcher reached low Earth orbit but was unable to go higher as planned due to an engine failure in its upper-stage Persei booster, according to media reports.
"There is no chance for continuing the Angara's test flight beyond the initial low orbit due to the main engine failure on the Persei space tug," Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com wrote on Twitter Monday night, citing an unnamed source.
Russian space industry officials have formed a commission to investigate the Persei engine failure, Zak added in a tweet on Thursday (Dec. 30).
The Angara (named after a river in Siberia) A5 is the first heavy-lift launch vehicle used by the Russian space agency Roscosmos since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.
Its first test flight, in December 2014, put a two-ton dummy payload into geosynchronous orbit. Its second test flight was slated for 2016, but delays and supply issues delayed it until December 2020, when it successfully lofted another dummy payload.
According to Russian officials, the Angara A5 is more environmentally friendly than its antecedents, as it uses oxygen and kerosene as fuel instead of toxic heptyl. Russian officials hope the new rocket will provide a boost to the nation's private space industry; they're building a new launchpad for it at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East.
This third launch, again using a dummy payload, was the first to carry the new upper-stage Persei booster. At first, the launch went smoothly. The Angara A5's first two stages fired as planned, and then Persei successfully pushed the payload into low Earth orbit.
The next flight of the Anagara A5 is scheduled for March, carrying a communications satellite. Later in the 2020s, the rockets are slated to start lifting Russia’s in-development Orel crew capsule.
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Rahul Rao is a graduate of New York University's SHERP and a freelance science writer, regularly covering physics, space, and infrastructure. His work has appeared in Gizmodo, Popular Science, Inverse, IEEE Spectrum, and Continuum. He enjoys riding trains for fun, and he has seen every surviving episode of Doctor Who. He holds a masters degree in science writing from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) and earned a bachelors degree from Vanderbilt University, where he studied English and physics.