The upper stage of the botched Angara launch re-entered the atmosphere harmlessly on January 5, marking yet another blow in the vehicle’s long development. The Persei upper stage from the Angara-A5 deployment reentered over South Pacific Ocean at exactly 4:08 p.m. Eastern, according to the 18th Space Control Squadron of the US Space Force. The reentry took occurred far from any populated regions, and no debris was reported to reach the surface.
After a December 27 deployment on the Angara from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, the Persei stage became trapped in orbit. The stage, which was transporting an inert payload, was supposed to undertake a sequence of engine burns in order to arrive at the geostationary orbit (GEO), but it failed during the second one. The stage was trapped in the low transfer orbit for the following nine days, which decayed.
The Angara-A5 was launched for the third time, although this was the first time the Persei upper stage was used, which is modeled on Block DM-03 stage utilized on some Proton deployments. The Breeze-M upper stage was used on the first 2 Angara-A5 missions, which took place in December 2020 and December 2014, and both were successful.
The launch was announced on December 27 by Roscosmos, who noted that Persei’s upper stage nevertheless had several maneuvers to complete before reaching geostationary orbit. The agency kept the public in the dark about the deployment and refused to acknowledge Persei’s failure or reentry.
The Angara launch vehicle has long been projected as the Proton’s replacement. The rocket’s development began in the 1990s, but it has been plagued by delays. The rocket had not delivered an operational payload, with its three launches so far consisting solely of mass simulators.
In recent years, the Proton, long a workhorse for both the commercial launch industry and the Russian government, has faded. In the last two years, only three Protons have been launched, two of which carried sets of the Express communications satellites for the Russian operator RSCC as well as one of which delivered the Nauka module to ISS (International Space Station).
Despite the lull in deployment activity, Tiphaine Louradour, who is the president of the ILS (International Launch Services), gave an upbeat assessment of Proton and Angara’s future at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week summit in December. She predicted 15 or 14 Proton and Angara A5 launches over the next 2 years but didn’t specify how many were going to be commercial and how many were going to be Russian government flights. The Soyuz rocket is also available for commercial missions, according to ILS.
“We possess the launch vehicle suite to address a wide range of mission needs,” she said, referring to the Proton/Breeze-M, the Angara, which is going to be accessible to the commercial market soon, and the Soyuz now. However, new laws in the United States which restrict access to Russian automobiles may obstruct that access. “ILS was extremely proactive and submitted and acquired over 15 permits, allowing us to operate and satisfy our customers’ requirements” before the laws were implemented, she said. “Today, it would be difficult.”