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Reusable Launch Vehicles

About the time that Angara was selected to be the next heavy-lift Russian launch vehicle, the Central Research Institute of Machine Building was reportedly studying a concept for a partially reusable space transportation system. The 3-stage launch vehicle, named Norma, would use liquid oxygen and kerosene to power all main engines and would have a LEO payload capacity in excess of 75 metric tons. In the initial concept, stages 1 and 3 could be recovered and reused, employing many of the techniques envisioned for the advanced Energiya booster (Reference 301).

For several years a logical successor to the expensive Buran space shuttle has been the Multi-purpose Aerospace System (MAKS) based on a small spaceplane named Molniya and launched off the back of a modified An-225 aircraft. Conceived by the Molniya Scientific Production Association and the Zhukovskiy Central Aerohydro-dynamics Research Institute, MAKS is based on more than 30 years experience in developing reusable winged spacecraft under the Spiral, EPOS, BOR, and Buran programs. MAKS would be a 30-metric-ton-class spacecraft capable of manned (with a crew of two and an 8.3-metric-ton payload) or automated (with a 9.5-metric-ton payload) flight.

In the air-launched mode, the space-plane and a large propellant tank would separate from the An-225 at an altitude of nearly 10 km, and the spaceplane, using tri-propellant (liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen/ kerosene) RD-701 engines, would fly into a low altitude orbit. The overall dimensions of the space plane are 19.3 m in length and 12.5 m wing-span. Despite considerable international interest in the program, no commitment has been made, and a maiden flight is unlikely in this decade (References 306, 311-324). Alternative plans to launch the Molniya spaceplane atop an Energlya-M launch vehicle died along with that booster program.

In 1993 the Russian Space Agency initiated a research and development program named Orel to determine the feasibility of producing hypersonic engines to power a SSTO vehicle. Under the leadership of the Central Institute of Aviation Engine Building, scramjet evaluation testing began in November 1991 with the aid of S-200 tactical missiles launched from facilities near Baikonur. A second flight was conducted a year later with French assistance. Both missions tested the subsonic and supersonic (up to Mach 6) performance of the subscale, experimental engine. The near-term goal of the Orel program is to support a prototype SSTO designated the Tu-2000 which would have a take-off mass of 70-90 metric tons, a length of 55-60 m, a wing-span of 14 m, and would be able to carry a crew of two. The maiden flight of the Tu-2000 is not anticipated before the year 2010 (References 306, 321, 325-339).


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