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Russia launches heavy-lift Angara rocket on 3rd test flight, but misses intended orbit: reports

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).

Related: Russia's Angara rocket family (reference)

A Russian Angara A5 rocket launches from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on the vehicle’s third demonstration mission on Dec. 27, 2021. The rocket, carrying a dummy payload, reached low Earth orbit, but an upper-stage engine failure prevented it from going higher as planned, according to media reports.

A Russian Angara A5 rocket launches from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on the vehicle’s third demonstration mission on Dec. 27, 2021. The rocket, carrying a dummy payload, reached low Earth orbit, but an upper-stage engine failure prevented it from going higher as planned, according to media reports. (Image credit: Russian Ministry of Defense)

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. 

But when Persei was slated to fire a second time — which would have propelled the payload into geostationary orbit — it did not, according to media reports.

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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