Final flight of Zenit?

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Could this be the last flight of the powerful Zenit launch vehicle?

On December 11, 2015, a Zenit-3SLBF rocket will launch the Electro-L2 satellite. Electro L-2 is a Russian weather satellite that will be stationed in Geostationary orbit. However, many sources, including Spaceflight Now and Spaceflight 101, have published articles stating that this launch could be the final launch of the Zenit launch vehicle, because the Zenit is for the most part manufactured in the Ukraine, and since Russian-Ukrainian tensions are getting tight, Russia has decided that it is no longer interested in purchasing Zenit launch vehicles from the Ukraine.


The Zenit launch vehicle was rolled out to its Baikonur launch pad on December 9, 2015. This Zenit will fly in the Zenit-3SLBF (Zenit 3F) configuration with a Fregat-SB upper stage that will inject the Electro-L2 satellite into Geostationary orbit. Zenit stands approximately 20 stories tall in this configuration.


The Zenit's first stage is powered by a RD-171M engine. RD-171M is the world's most powerful rocket engine, even more powerful than the Saturn V rocket's F-1 engines (However RD-171M achieves this thrust through four thrust chambers while the F-1 only has a single thrust chamber. F-1 is the most powerful single chamber rocket engine and RD-171M is the most powerful rocket engine overall). RD-171M is derived from the RD-170 engine used on the strap-on boosters of the Energiya rocket that lifted the Soviet Space Shuttle, Buran. RD-171M burns a mixture of RP-1 Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen. It burns for approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds.


The second stage is powered by a fixed RD-120 engine and a four-chamber RD-8 vernier engine. Both engines burn the same propellant mixture as the first stage. RD-120 has also influenced the design other rocket engines with its efficient staged combustion cycle technology, most notably the Ukranian RD-810, the Indian SCE-200, and the Chinese YF-100. 


From left to right: RD-120, RD-810, SCE-200, YF-100

On this flight, the third stage of the rocket will be a Fregat-SB upper stage (Zenit is compatible with the Block-DMSLB and Fregat-SB upper stages). Fregat-SB is derived from the Russian Fregat upper stage. The Fregat-SB has an additional torodial propellant tank mounted below the structural frame. The Fregat-SB upper stage will propel the Electro-L2 satellite into Geostationary orbit. 

This will be the 83rd flight of Zenit and the 3rd flight of the vehicle in its Zenit-3F configuration. The first version of the Zenit was the Zenit-2, which was the basic two-stage vehicle. Later, with Sea Launch's arrival into the commercial launch market, the Zenit-3 family was introduced. Zenit-3 was basically a Zenit 2 with a Block-DMSL/DMSLB upper stage. Sea Launch flights flew with the Block-DMSL upper stage, while Zenit-3SLB/3M "Land Launch" rockets flew with the Block-DMSLB upper stage. The Zenit-3F is the only Zenit configuration that uses the Fregat upper stage. 


Developed in the former Soviet Union, the Zenit rocket "represented a new age of Soviet rocketry," as according to Spaceflight Now. Many Zenit components were manufactured by Yuzhnoye inside the Ukraine, and Russia depended on the Ukraine to ship Zenit rockets if it wanted to launch satellites on Zenit. The rocked made its maiden flight in 1985, and has flown missions for over 30 years. Reportedly, there are two more unflown Zenit launch vehicles. A completed vehicle is in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was assigned to launch Russia's Spektr-RG observatory. However, according to Spaceflight Now, the rocket's warranty has already expired and the observatory might be shifted to a Proton-M Breeze-M rocket. Another Zenit rocket is being assembled in the Ukraine to launch the Ukrainian Lybid-1 communications satellite. However, it is unclear if Lybid-1 will even fly, due to Russian-Ukrainian tensions getting tighter. With this, a legendary product of the Cold War space race will probably make its final trip to the stars tomorrow. 




This is my recreation of the launch in KSP, using the Zenit-3SLB from Horizon Aeronautics. 

Note: The Zenit rocket shown here is in the Zenit-3SLB configuration, with a Block-DMSLB upper stage. I don't think there are Fregat-SB stages in any of the KSP mods, and existing Fregat stages are not compatible with the size of this rocket. Also, the payload being launched is a first-generation TDRS satellite, since there is no Electro-L2 replica in KSP. 



Edited by Delta_8930

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If Sea Launch's bankruptcy caused it to be bought out by Boeing, or another one of its partners instead of Russia, we might still have the Zenit.. and Sea Launch, which is probably set to disband due to the end of Zenit....:(

ULA would also get another rocket- of course, it would probably not be able to get DOD launches (or would Ukraine be OK? If so, it might make a good temporary Atlas replacement), so it may just be replaced by Vulcan, only later...


It was doomed either way. Zenit, it was nice seeing you.

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@fredinnoDefinitely. Russia believes that its "maintenance" cost for Sea Launch was way too high.

I believe that future American launch vehicles (F9, Vulcan, etc) will get DoD contracts. You can't just turn to another country to launch sophisticated classified satellites. Also, I believe that turning to other countries for Launch vehicle technology will be highly unlikely. If we compare all the countries in terms of Launch Vehicle Technology, the US will definitely be ranked #1 or #2, depends on who you ask. 

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