Russian space agency Roscosmos signed a contract with state rocket manufacturer Progress Rocket Space Center on October 5 to develop a reusable launch vehicle. Roscosmos expects the maiden flight of its new rocket to be launched in 2026 from the country’s Vostochny Cosmodrome.
The “Amur” rocket is a two-stage methalox-powered launch vehicle that features control fins and deployable landing legs for propulsive touchdowns. It is designed to carry 9,500 kilograms into low Earth orbit when being recovered and 11,300 kilograms when being used as an expendable vehicle.
Although the design is unique to anything Russia currently operates, it bears a striking resemblance to the SpaceX Falcon 9 in both design and functionality.
In April, the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin took to Twitter to decry SpaceX for its use of “price dumping,” an anti-competition pricing strategy that calls for a company to offer a lower price for a product in a foreign market to undercut competitors. Rogozin went on to accuse the US government of providing the financing that allowed SpaceX to continue to employ this strategy.
Rogozin’s Twitter diatribe concluded with the Roscosmos chief vowing to significantly reduce the cost per launch of Russian vehicles.
It is, as a result, no surprise that an October 10 Roscosmos press release announcing the development of the new rocket, revealed that the cost per launch aboard an Amur rocket would be $22 million, well below the approximately $60 million for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.
In addition to the design being all but identical, the new rocket’s proposed reliability benchmarks appear to be all but lifted from the Falcon 9 user manual. Roscosmos has stated that it expects to reuse each Amur first stage booster at least 10 times while aiming for as many as 100 flights per booster.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently revealed that the SpaceX Falcon 9 boosters could be capable of more than 100 flights. This launch capacity would, however, be dependent on the replacement of several of the booster’s key components.
While responding to a question on Twitter, Musk stated that to reach the 100-launch milestone, it is possible that a booster’s “composite helium tanks” and “turbopump hot sections” would need to be replaced.
The Roscosmos press release did not address any of the complications that would arise in attempting to reuse a booster for more than 100 flights. The only mention of considerations being taken to address the difficulties of reuse appears to be a requirement that each Amur methalox engine be capable of 300 restarts, which accounts for three per mission or one for liftoff, one for reentry, and one for a propulsive touchdown.
According to Alexander Bloshenko, Executive Director for Advanced Programs and Science at Roscosmos, the development of the new rocket is expected to cost 70 billion rubles ($900 million).
In January 2019, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced the Roscosmos budget would be approximately 515 billion rubles over the next three years. The development of Amur would, as a result, command a large portion of the overall budget and almost definitely force cuts in other areas to the agency’s operation.
As a result, like many other ambitious Roscosmos projects before, the Amur launch vehicle appears to be more of a publicity stunt than anything.