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The sad story of "Zenit"
Material posted: Publication date: 27-12-2017
Alas, the success of a technical system does not always depends only on its excellence. And the sad story of the carrier rocket "Zenit" clearly shows how great the technical side of the rocket instead of a brilliant career and outstanding achievements were in a situation when you have to just survive. December 26 kicks off the last of the already made "Zenith" and, despite the news this year, it may be the last in the history of this launch vehicle.

The force awakens

The rocket, which eventually was called "Zenit" emerged from a combination of several ideas. First, the growing mass of satellites in General and, in particular, the apparatus of electronic intelligence "Virgin", a new version of which outgrew the rocket "Vostok-2M" and "Cyclone-3". At first, the designers design Bureau "South" was a rather unusual way, by designing a rocket with two adjacent first stage. The resulting design called "shotgun" or "flounder". Secondly, in the environment of the missile designers, the idea of replacing the morally outdated family of missiles on the basis of "R-7" — some disadvantages like large amounts of manual work in preparation for the start it was impossible to resolve any upgrades. CB "South" are used to working with high-boiling components for missiles, originally wanted to use them for a new project, but there are environmental issues. And the Ministry of defence and the Council of Ministers wisely decided that the rocket, which will start often, it is not necessary to use poisonous heptyl and amyl. By 1974 was created the concept of "shotgun" with two adjacent first stage diameter of 3 meters, using the RD-124 and RD-125 with a capacity in the region of 12 tons into low orbit.

Worked even reuse the first stage, so the engines were designed for repeated inclusion. In 1975, think about changing the engines of the first stage for just a beginner to create the RD-170, but this would increase the diameter of the rocket and making new tooling for production, so the work was sluggish. And here intervened a third idea — program "Energy-Buran". The first tier decided to make a universal — like side accelerator super-heavy rocket "Energy" and at the same time the first stage of a new secondary missiles. Under this program has not had any problems with the allocation of funds for new production tooling, so the diameter of the rocket increased to the maximum permitted train size is 3.9 meters. Birthday "Zenith" is March 16, 1976, when the resolution of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers.


The main issue in development was the engine. This is not surprising — record settings, and traction could not be obtained quickly and easily. The development was delayed, and satellites "Tselina-2" had to be temporarily transplanted to Protons. In 1984 he began bench-testing stage of Assembly, and on the first challenge there was a fire in the tail section, then burned the walls of the tanks and test stand have disappeared in the fire of hundreds of tons of fuel. Flight tests of the rocket also did not go smoothly — the first two start-up in 1985 was an emergency. But, despite all the problems, in October 1985 "Zenith" has put into orbit its first satellite.


By the end of 1988 was launched 13 missiles "Zenit" (three of them accidental), and eight units successfully flew in two launches of rocket "Energy". From a technical point of view everything was perfect. The RD-170/171 became the world record holder in the deadlift (740 tons at sea level), and the rocket implemented or were planning to use the solution at the forefront of technological progress. The process of preparing for the launch was as automated as possible from the pre-flight tests in the Assembly and test complex to install missiles in starting construction, inspection and start there. This allowed us to quickly and efficiently prepare the missiles for launch. The option for the "Energy" the first step was going to land gently and reused. The dimension of "Zenith" was chosen very successfully — almost 14 tons into low orbit comfortably exceeded 7 tons, "Union", and in the starting complex was specially created reserve for more severe modifications. At first "Zenith" was launched only companions "Tselina-2", but at the cosmodrome "Plesetsk" started to build another launch pad, and "Zenith" quite could become a universal Soviet rocket of the middle class. Even under it began to develop a new manned spacecraft "dawn", is also ahead-of-time, and reusable rocket landing. Reuse stages, modular super-heavy rocket, the spaceship with the rocket landing — SpaceX successes compared with the achievements of the Soviet twenty years ago. But all this beauty collapsed along with the Soviet Union. Technological progress is a fragile thing, and in terms of political and economic turmoil, degradation starts. In 1990-92 years there have been three consecutive crash, "Zenit", and it is believed that they are directly related to brain drain and instability of production. Enterprises of the defense and aerospace industries began to best to make food processors and scooters, and at worst ceased to exist, and instead of the brilliant prospects "Zenith" has been torn between the now independent countries (70%, including engines did Russia, the rest of Ukraine), and his new goal was survival.

New hope

Second chance "Zenith" has given the idea of floating cosmodrome "Sea launch". And again, the prospects were bright. The main space money is concentrated in geostationary orbit — there are telecommunications satellites, sell satellite television services, Internet, radio and telephone. And display them in a geostationary orbit is most advantageous from the equator. The fact that the initial inclination of the orbit of the satellite launch may not be less than the latitude of the spaceport, and this inclination is necessary to reset in order to be in a geostationary orbit. At start-up from Baikonur have to get rid of 51.6° initial inclination, and that takes precious fuel. Yet there is the factor the Earth's rotation, but compared to Baikonur the equator gives an increase of only 172 meters per second, against the cost of the change of inclination is more pleasant bonus. The benefits start from the equator is so great, that one and the same modification of the rocket "Zenit" can bring to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Baikonur 3.6 t, and when you launch from the equator is 6.1 T.

Photo: Sea launch

"Zenit" is perfectly suited for the floating spaceport, mainly thanks to the fully automatic start — it was possible before starting to remove all the people on the other ship, to go away, and the accident would not have led to casualties. Capacity has also been very successful, and 6.1 tons with an added upper stage block DM-SL have now, only four of all running geostationary satellites were heavier.

The consortium "Sea launch" was founded in 1995. It included Russia (70% of the rocket and the upper stage), Ukraine (the rest of the rocket), Norway (launch platform and command ship) and the USA (fairing and Assembly). In 1999 the first launch. But this time the problems began in the economic part. The consortium was not able to find a sufficient number of customers to the company was profitable. In 2012, the President of RSC Energia Vitaly Lopota said that Sea launch makes a profit starting from four launches per year. Such profitable year was only three.


Despite the success of 2006 and 2008, obviously, the crash of 2007 and the loss of time for its investigation, impose on earlier debts, were fatal in 2009, Sea launch filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, providing for the possibility of reorganization of the company. As a result of this reorganization the owner of 95% of the company was RSC Energia. But a new miracle did not happen — started in 2011-2013, the companions were ordered even before the bankruptcy, and no single year was not profitable. Along with the "Sea launch" in 2004 tried to develop the project "Land launch", where "Zenith" allowed from Baikonur, but they managed to make just six starts. And the aggravation of relations between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, and was buried "Sea launch" and "Zenit" in the form in which they existed.

The last rocket

In early 2015, the news of a possible adaptation to the "Sea launch" rocket "Angara". Modification "Angara A-5" would be able to deduce from the equator approximately one and a half times more than Zenit, but it would take a serious alteration of the launch platform. In principle, the launch of the Angara rocket in Plesetsk was converted from the unfinished start by "Zenit", but such work is time and money, which, obviously, was not. Moreover, in Russia the initiative to develop RCC "Progress" under the name "Soyuz-5", which was originally designed as a rocket on natural gas and oxygen, superimposed on the planned Federal space program theme "the Phoenix", which was going to create a PH of the middle class with a carrying capacity 9 tons. In 2017, it turned out that the result of this crossing became fully Russian equivalent of "Zenit". Its exact characteristics are yet to be announced, but there is information that he will be able to put in orbit until 17 tons, three more than the two-stage variant of "Zenit". "Soyuz-5" will appear soon, but is already the rival of "Zenith", and in the summer of 2017 came the news that Sea launch will alter under it. But there it was — a month before, bought at the end of the 2016 Sea launch company S7 has announced the resumption of production "Zenith" the Ukrainian "Pivdenmash". A collision occurred — the Russian engines were not delivered there in 2014, and to make an exception for the S7 Roscosmos was not planned. But by October of S7 made a feint ears — the engines will be delivered in the United States and to complete final Assembly is already there.

Despite the fact that new launches from the Sea launch promise in 2019, this is not certain. First of all, it is unknown whether "Pivdenmash" to keep the people and equipment for the production of the rocket in terms of economic problems. The company's management, about the difficulties which appear regularly on the news in the Ukrainian media, can promise to produce plenty of missiles, the plant has nothing to lose. But will they be able to meet the timing and, most importantly, the quality of the components? Further, Sea launch costs about $30 million a year, will have enough S7 Group money to maintain the infrastructure before the start of the launches? Well, the most simple and terrible problem — whether the "Sea launch" to find customers and compete in difficult modern conditions, if a rare year it was profitable even ten years ago when Elon Musk started?

The latest export of "Zenit" at the start, photo by Roscosmos

Returning to the past "Zenith", a dreary haze to the photos are amazing in the subject. The missile was produced a few years ago, and, according to rumors from the forum of the magazine "news of Cosmonautics", she has extended the resource. And to delay the start, then too it is impossible — according to information from the same place, for 2018 there is no agreement about the fields in the fall for "Zenith" to Kazakhstan. Misfits rocket, which almost push out in flight — a sad end of a career project with such promising once prospects. In these circumstances, one can only hope that the launch goes well.


Tags: assessment , Russia , space , USSR

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