Soyuz Feature Article
August 19, 2009 14:54:34
The Legendary Soyuz Booster
By Robert Gass
The Soyuz Booster Family. From left to right we see the R-7, Sputnik, Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz. Photo Credit: NASA

When talking about the Russian space program, invariably, people will begin to compare the American Space Shuttle to Russia's Soyuz booster. Many are quick to point out how advanced the Shuttle is, how much more powerful it is, and of course the fact that it can be used time and time again. But Soyuz  has more than a few tricks of it's own and it can honestly be debated that  this venerable, nearly 50 year old relic of the cold war, can still out class and out perform nearly every other booster on the market today.

Soyuz is the worlds oldest and most reliable space launcher. With the exception of some new upper stages it is virtually identical to the  R-7, Russia's first ICBM which was built in 1957 by the legendary Soviet rocket designed S.P. Korolev. Ironically, what would become the worlds most reliable space launcher was canceled before it was ever borne after six unsuccessful launch attempts. Korolev, who knew his design was sound, ignored the order to return to Moscow and launched his seventh, and last R-7, without the Kremlin's blessings. The flight was a complete success and both the R-7 and Korolev were redeemed.

The R-7 was intended to toss atomic weapons across the ocean and into the United States. The problem was that the Soviets had yet to develop atomic weapons small enough to be carried in a plane let alone in a rocket. Because nobody knew how large these weapons would be Korolev over designed the R-7 giving it tremendous lift capabilities far beyond those of other rockets in existence at that time.  

Korolev's R-7

Although Korolev was ordered to build an ICBM for the Soviet Government he knew that his rocket would open the door to space for the Soviet people. So he designed the R-7 in such a way that it could be easily converted into a space launcher. He then used that rocket to drag the Soviet Union kicking and screaming into space.

Once converted to a space launcher, the Soviets began  naming different configurations of the booster after the spacecraft it launched. So the R-7 was also called Sputnik, Vostok, Voskhod, Luna, Manolya and a host of other names before becoming the launch vehicle for the Soyuz manned spacecraft in the mid 1960s. Since that time the name has remained unchanged.

All in all Soyuz has been launched over 1736 times carrying everything from people to interplanetary probes. Soyuz can and has been  launched through heavy fog, relatively high winds, very cold temperatures, and even through snow storms! It boasts a failure rate of only 0.982% and at the peak of production nearly 60 were manufactured and launched every year. 

Cut-away diagram of  a Soyuz Booster. At the base we can see the four pods that make up the first stage clustered around the core that makes up the second stage. Above that is the third stage and a Fregat upper stage is seen inside the payload fairing. Photo Credit: Arianespace

Launches occur from one of two pads at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, or from one of four pads at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Plesetsk was originally a super secret military launch facility used by the Soviet Union to launch spy satellites and other military spacecraft. Baikonur, although also considered a State secret by the Soviets,  was primarily used for the more public manned and interplanetary missions. Today, both facilities are now open for civilian and commercial launches although Baikonur continues to be the base for all manned operations.

Soyuz is unique in that it is a "pod" rocket. Pod rockets differ from traditional rockets in that Instead of having the first stage stacked on top of the second, the first stage is wrapped around the second. On Soyuz four such "pods" are combined to form the first stage. They look like a cone that has been flattened on one side and attached to a cylindrical base.

 Each pod is identical containing an oxygen tank in the upper cone shaped section and a kerosene tank in the lower cylindrical section.  A single Energomash RD 107 engine and two gimbaled vernier thrusters are located at the base of each pod.

The RD 107 engine is unique in that it is in fact four engines in one. At the time of its development scientists working on the R-7 ICBM found that they could not produce a combustion chamber that was large enough to power the vehicle without producing vibrations that were so severe they would consistently destroy the vehicle. 

The problem was solved  by mounting a single large turbo pump above four smaller combustion chambers. These, in turn, fed into four nozzles creating four small engines as opposed to one large combustion chamber that fed into one large engine. The result is that  each pod has four engines giving the combined first stage a total of 16 engines. The engines are fixed and can not be gimbaled the way most modern rocket engines can which is why Soyuz  relies on a series of 12 vernier thrusters (small rockets that can be gimbaled) for its steering capabilities.

The second stage consists of the core rocket and it is powered by a single NPO Energomash RD 108 engine. This engine also has the distinctive four chamber design in effect adding four more engines to the stack  for a total of 20 (36 if you count the 12 verniers!). However, the core differs from the pods in that it is cylindrical in shape and contains four vernier thrusters instead of the two found on each pod. This allows the rocket to maintain three access stabilization once the pods have fallen away.

Above the second stage is a metal lattice that contains an  equipment bay that shelters the vehicles internal control systems.  The lattice also links the third stage to the second stage. The Third stage is powered by an RD 0110 engine from KB KhA.  This engine is more conventional in nature and does not contain the multiple chambers found in the first and second stage engines. Above that sits the payload and on manned flights a launch escape tower tops off the stack. All stages are fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.  

Another major difference between Soyuz and most other launchers is the way it is assembled. Soyuz is assembled on its side in a facility known as the Assembly and Testing Facility located close to the launch pad. Two days before launch, the rocket is rolled out of the assembly building and transported via rail car to the launch pad. 

This photo shows a manned Soyuz U booster on the launch pad at Baikonure. The giant tear drop shaped flame pit is in the forground. At the far end of the photo is the launch pad itself. The erector that was used to raise the booster into launch possition is still attached to the rocket. Support equipment can be seen ready top encapsulate the rocket. Photo Credit: SP Korolev Rocket And Space Corporation.

The launch pad itself  lies on the flat side of a gigantic tear drop shaped flame pit. The pit is graded so that the deepest part of the pit lies at the flat end which then gradually ascends to ground level at the pointed end. The launch pad sits directly over the deepest part of the pit and just below its rim. The pit is 45 meters deep and displaces 1 million meters of earth!

Upon reaching the pad, the booster is tilted into it's launch position using hydraulic lifts and then encased by the service towers. That afternoon (or sometimes the next day)  a dress rehearsal for launch is conducted during which all electrical and mechanical equipment are activated and tested.

Soyuz was first developed as a ballistic missile, so when SP Korolov designed his giant rocket, he kept preparation time down to a minimum. Although 2 days is a snails to military planers, it is considered to be lightning fast for a space launcher (compare it to the American Space Shuttle which takes over a month to get ready!). 

On Launch day  the vehicle is loaded with propellant and the final countdown sequence is started about four hours before launch. If people are involved, the crew will arrive at the launch pad only 2 hours before launch. Launch preparations proceed with clock work precision as the highly trained and experienced launch team works through the pre-launch check list as they have literally thousands of times before. Technical issues and scrubs are virtually unheard of. 

This close-up of the base of a Soyuz Booster shows the rockets first and second stages. All 20 of these engines along with 12 vernier rockets will light at launch to lift the rocket off of it's launch pad. Photo Credit: NASA

At launch all 20 engines and all 12 vernier thrusters fire simultaneously to provide the nearly 500 metric tons of thrust necessary get the vehicle off the ground. When Soyuz reaches a predetermined speed (usually about 118 seconds into the flight) the pods fall away and the core continues firing until it is time for third stage ignition. At this point, the core will shut down and instead of falling away just before ignition as with most other rockets, the core remains attached until the ignition of the third stage literally blasts the two stages apart at the lattice.

The third stage will continue operating for about another 240 seconds until a predetermined velocity is reached. It will then shut down and separate itself from the payload. At this point a valve will open allowing the liquid oxygen tank to outgas. This, in turn, provides thrust that moves the spent stage safely away from the payload. It will then slowly sink back into Earth's atmosphere where it is destroyed.

Tracking and telemetry are provided by independent radar transponders found in the second and third stages of the vehicle. Since the boosters flight path takes it mostly over land during the first few minutes of launch, the health of the rocket is downloaded to ground stations located along the flight path and telemetry and tracking data are transmitted to mission control where it is recorded for analysis.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in the mid 1980's, the entire Soyuz launch system was privatized and is now owned and operated by Starsem SA. Starsem is  a French corporation  consisting of four partners - EADS (35%), SamaraSpaceCenter (25%), Rosaviakosmos (25%) and Arianespace (15%). As these numbers clearly indicate, Russian corporations control 50% of the new companies stock with the remaining 50% divided amongst two European partners. 

Starsem currently markets five versions of the booster. Soyuz U is the manned version. It is used exclusively in support of the Russian manned space program and the International Space Station. Back in the 1970's the Soviets modified the Soyuz spacecraft so that it can serve as a space freighter called Progress. The standard Soyuz U booster was modified to accommodate the new un-manned freighter and became known as Soyuz Cargo.  

Back in the day's of the Soviet Union, a fourth stage was developed and added to the basic Soyuz launch vehicle.  The new stage was named Ikar and the new launcher became known as Soyuz-Ikar. Soyuz-Ikar features an in flight restart capability where the stages main engine can be started, turned off, and restarted up to 50 times during a mission. It can be controlled  from the ground or, it can operate in autonomous mode allowing for the delivery of multiple satellite payloads to orbit. Soyuz-Ikar is capable of delivering payloads of up to 4,100 kg to a 450 km circular orbit inclined 51.8 deg. or payloads of up to 3,300 kg to a 1,400 km circular orbit.

 Another fourth stage was developed for the Soviet planetary exploration program. This one is known as Fregat  and the launcher is known as Soyuz-Fregat. Fregat is more powerful than Ikar and has been used on over 30 interplanetary spaceflights. It has demonstrated a high degree of reliability under conditions that often exceeded its technical specifications. Frigat makes use of a fuel knowen as UDMH and uses N204 as an oxidizer. The single chamber engine can be restarted as many as 20 times making the vehicle well suited for multipul satellite launches, interplanetary flights, and delivering large payloads to orbit. Soyuz-Fregat can launch up to 5000 kg into orbits inclined 51.8 deg or up to 4,000 kg into 1,400 km circular orbits.

A Soyuz ST booster is raised onto the launch pad. Photo Credit: ESA

Finally, we come to the newest Soyuz booster - Soyuz ST. Soyuz ST features redesigned combustion chamber injectors on the first and second stages and a reinforced  third stage. The propellant tanks on the third stage also have been enlarged and a new digital flight control system added.  The payload fairing has been enlarged based on the one that was used used by the Ariane 4 boosters however, the Soyuz faring, is about 1 meter longer than the largest Ariane 4 faring.

The new booster is compatible with both the Ikar and Fregat upper stages giving Soyuz ST the ability to place payloads up to 5,500 kg into 450 km circular orbits or 4,600 kg to a 1,400 km Sun-synchronous orbit.

Arianespace intends to launch the Soyuz ST booster from its spaceport in French Guiana. The legendarySoviet booster will now join Europe' s launcher fleet bridging the gap between the light weight "Vega" and the heavy weight "Ariane V boosters. Construction of the facility began in January 2008 with the first launch scheduled for late 2009. This will mark the first launch of a Soyuz booster from a facility outside of the former USSR.

When Korolev first built the R-7 critics lambasted the rocket saying it was to big, took to long to prepare, and was a poor weapon. They were correct - the R-7 was a poor weapon but little did they realize that the "master designer" had in fact constructed an ideal space launcher that would still be in use long after most of those critics had died.

Contact the author: Robert@interspacenews.com

 Soyuz Launch Vehicle Characteristics 

 

First Stage

 

Engine

RD-107 (4)

Propellants

LOX/Kerosene

Thrust (tons)

102 (each)

Burn Time (sec)

122

Specific Impulse

314

Length (meters)

19.8

Diameter

2.68

Dry Mass (tons)

3.45

Propellant Mass (tons)

39.63

Second Stage

 

Engine

RD-108

Propellants

LOX/Kerosene

Thrust (tons)

96

Burn Time (sec)

314

Specific Impulse

315

Length (meters)

28.75

Diameter (meters)

2.95

Dry Mass (tons)

6.51

Propellant mass (tons)

95.7

Third Stage

 

Engine

RD-461

Propellants

LOX/Kerosene

Thrust (tons)

30

Burn Time (sec)

240

Specific Impulse

330

Length (meters)

8.1

Diameter (meters)

2.66

Dry Mass (tons)

2.4

Propellant mass (tons)

21.3

Payload Mass (tons)

6.8

Shroud Mass (tons)

4.5

Launch Mass (tons)

309.53

TOTAL LENGTH (meters)

49.3

 

Soyuz Launcher Countdown Timeline

(Manned Launch)

T-34 Hours

Booster is prepared for fuel loading

T-6:00:00

Batteries are installed in the booster

T-5:30:00

State commission gives go to take launch vehicle

T-5:15:00

Crew arrives at site 254

T-5:00:00

Tanking begins

T-4:20:00

Spacesuite donning

T-4:00:00

Booster is loaded with liquid oxygen

T-3:40:00

Crew meets delegations

T-3:10:00

Reports to state commissions

T-3:05:00

Transfer to the launch pad

T-3:00:00

Vehicle 1st and 2nd stage oxidizer fueling complete

T-2:35:00

Crew arrives at launch pad

T-2:30:00

Crew ingress through orbital module side hatch

T-2:00:00

Crew in reentry vehicle

T-1:45:00

Reentry vehicle hardware tested: suits are ventilated

T-1:30:00

Launch command monitoring and supply unit prepared

 

Orbital component hatch tested for sealing

T-1:00:00

Launch vehicle control system prepared for use: gyro instruments activated

T-0:45:00

Launch pad service structure halves are lowered

T-0:40:00

Reentry vehicle hardware testing complete: leak checks performed on suits

T-0:30:00

Emergency escape system armed: launch command supply unit activated

T-0:25:00

Service towers withdrawn

T-0:15:00

Suit leak tests complete: crew engages personal escape hardware auto mode

T-0:10:00

Launch gyro instruments uncaged: crew activates on-board recorders

T-0:07:00

All prelaunch operations complete

T-0:06:15

Key to launch command given at launch site

 

Automatic program of final launch operations is activated

T-0:06:00

All launch complex and vehicle systems ready for launch

T-0:05:00

Onboard systems switched to onboard control

 

Ground measurement system activated by RUN 1 command

 

Commanders controls activated

 

Crew switches to suit air by closing helmets

 

Launch key inserted in launch bunker

T-0:03:15

Combustion chambers of side and central engine pods purged with nitrogen

T-0:02:30

Booster propellant tank pressurization starts

 

Onboard measurement system activated by RUN 2 command

 

Prelaunch pressurization of all tanks with nitrogen begins

T-0:02:15

Oxidizer and fuel drain and safety valves of launch vehicle are closed

 

Ground filling of oxidizer and nitrogen to the launch vehicle is terminated

T-0:01:00

Vehicle on internal power

 

Automatic sequencer on

 

First umbilical tower separates from booster

T-0:00:40

Ground power supply umbilical to third stage is disconnected

T-0:00:20

Launch command given at the launch position

 

Central and side pod engines are turned on

T-0:00:15

Second umbilical tower separates from booster

T-0:00:10

Engine turbopumps at flight speed

T-0:00:05

First stage engines at maximum thrust

T-0:00:00

Fueling tower separates

 

LIFT OFF!

T+0:01:10

Booster velocity is 1640 ft/sec

T+0:01:58

Stage one separation

T+0:02:00

Booster velocity is 4921 ft/sec

T+0:02:40

Escape tower and launch shroud jettison

T+0:04:58

Core booster separates at 105.65 statute miles

 

Third stage ignites

T+0:07:30

Velocity is 19,685 ft/sec

T+0:09:00

Third stage cut-off

 

Soyuz spacecraft separation

 

Soyuz spacecraft antennas and solar panels deploy

 

Flight control switches to Kaliningrad Mission Control

 

Begin Mission Time Line

 

More Interactive Photography
Gale CratorInterActive First look crisp look around Gale Crator This 360-degree, full-resolution panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the area all around...
Endeavour nose gear in OPFInterActive Endeavour nose gear in OPF This was shot from forward and underneath Space Shuttle Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing...
Endeavor engine compartmentInterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavor engine compartmentInterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavour Cargo BayInterActive Endeavour Cargo Bay This image was shot from the forward end of Space Shuttle Endeavour's cargo ba as it sits in...
Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. InterActive Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour aft flight deck.
Endeavour Forward Flight DeckInterActive Endeavour Forward Flight Deck Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck.
Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payloadInterActive Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payload The rover Curiosity will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific...
Curiosity roverInterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Curiosity roverInterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Gravity Recovery and Interior LaboratoryInterActive GRAIL The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission's primary science objectives will be to...
Atlas V AV-029InterActive Atlas V AV-029 ULA Atlas V number AV-029 reaches launch pad on August 4th, 2011. In less than 1 day this Atlas...
Atlas V up closeInterActive Atlas V up close Get to know the Atlas V up close. Explore the rivets in this 74.62 megapixel image of the Atlas...
JUNO Atlas VInterActive JUNO Atlas V ULA Atlas V with the JUNO probe sitting atop at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is ready for...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15InterActive Atlantis on runway Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15InterActive Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis and towerInterActive Atlantis and tower Space shuttle Atlantis waits to receive payload for the final space shuttle mission STS-135,...
Atlantis payload preparationsInterActive Atlantis payload preparations Space shuttle Atlantis at pad 39A. The payload canister can be seen lifted in to position to...
Walk with the astronautsInterActive Walk with the astronauts A view of the 195ft level of the fixed service structure. This where the astronauts arrive at...
Last Space Shuttle prepares for launchInterActive Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch A close in look at space shuttle Atlantis on June 17th. Launch preparations are on going for...
The last space shuttle to be on the launch padInterActive The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle to flight begins launch prepartions at pad 39A...
Last space shuttle arrives at launch padInterActive Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis is seen here from the top of the rotating service structure the moring...
The last space shuttle has left the buildingInterActive The last space shuttle has left the building Space shuttle Atlantis rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time on the...
Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad   InterActive Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad Space shuttle Atlantis complete with the solid rocket boosters and external tank that will...
HiRes Atlantis hanging in VABInterActive HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB HiRes image of Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in the Vehical Assembly Building. This shot was...
Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5InterActive Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 Space Shuttle Atlantis after being lifted into the verticle position before being mated to the...
Atlantis verticalInterActive Atlantis vertical Space Shuttle Atlantis hangs vertical before removing the rear hoist and lifting it for the...
Atlantis rolling verticalInterActive Atlantis rolling vertical Here Space Shuttle Atlantis is almost vertical being positioned to soon be mated to the...
Atlantis hanging in VABInterActive Atlantis hanging in VAB Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen here hanging about 10 feet above the VAB floor. It has justed...
Endeavour at nightInterActive Endeavour at night Space shuttle Endeavour seen here at night as launch preparation continue for the first launch...
Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final missionInterActive Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling over the VAB for the last time. Atlantis is scheduled to be the...
Atlantis outside VAB for employee photosInterActive Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle, pauses during rollover from the OPF to the VAB...
Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttleInterActive Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle Hi Resolution composit image of the last space shuttle, Atlantis, as it sits atop the transport...
Atlantis in the VABInterActive Atlantis in the VAB Nice 360 degree view of the VAB with Atlantis being preped for the Lift and Mate procedure
Atlantis on the sled in VABInterActive Atlantis on the sled in VAB Explore the VAB with Space Shuttle Atlantis on the sled after rollover to the VAB jst before...
Atlantis being attached to slingInterActive Atlantis being attached to sling Full 360 degree panorama from inside the VAB as Space Shuttle Atlantis is attached to the sling...
Endeavour after RSS retractionInterActive Endeavour after RSS retraction Hi-Res image of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad 39A minutes after the RSS was...
The Mound STS-134 4/29 AttemptInterActive The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt This a 360 degree panorama from the mound of the KSC media center. This was the scence about an...
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)InterActive Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
AMS in the SSPFInterActive AMS in the SSPF The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunriseInterActive Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise the morning it arrived from the VAB. How...
Endeavour in the VABInterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Endeavour in the VABInterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Space Shuttle Discovery final towoverInterActive Space Shuttle Discovery final towover View of Space Shuttle Discovery 4 hours after returning to Earth for the last time. Discovery...
Space Shuttle Discovery Final LaunchInterActive Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Space shuttle Discovery final launchInterActive Space shuttle Discovery final launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Discovery at NightInterActive Discovery at Night This a panorama of Space Shuttle Discovery shortly after RSS retraction on 11/3/2010 preparing...
GRIP DC-8 PanoramaInterActive GRIP DC-8 Panorama Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
GRIP DC-8 InteriorInterActive GRIP DC-8 Interior Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
NASA GRIP DC-8InterActive NASA GRIP DC-8 The NASA DC-8 is a four-engine jet transport that has been highly modified to support the...
Endeavour on padInterActive Endeavour ready for launch HiRes image of Endeavour at Pad 39A
AMS-2 Antimatter TelescopeInterActive AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope Explore the SSPF and ESA's Antimatter Telescope. 360 rotating,zoomable Panorama!
Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for the last timeInterActive Explore LC-39A !! Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for...