Encyclopedia Astronautica
System 49



49an124.jpg
49 / An-124
The Spiral project was not cancelled with the decision to proceed with the large Buran spaceplane. Instead flight test of the orbiter continued but the launcher design was rethought. The ambitious Mach 4 air-breathing first stage was abandoned. Instead the rocket stages and the manned Spiral orbiter were mounted on the back of an An-124 subsonic transport. This concept would evolve through the Bizan concept to the MAKS of the 1980's, which reached the hardware development stage.

The first iteration of the new design was undertaken in 1977-1978 as the AKS project at the Scientific Research Institute 'Rosa'. This used the second rocket stage and orbiter stage of Spiral, designated RUOS in this study.

The subsequent System 49 design used a refined Spiral configuration proven in flight tests of the MiG-105-11 and BOR-4. The combined orbiter and rocket stages, weight 200 metric tons, would be launched from the An-124 at an altitude of 10 km and a speed of Mach 0.7. Effective velocity gain compared to a vertical launch from the ground was 270 m/s.

The first stage would use Lox/Kerosene propellants and 2 NK-43 / 11D112 engines. The second stage was equipped with a single RD-57M / 11D57M engine burning Lox/LH2 propellants. Two rocket stage layouts were studied: a traditional tandem scheme, and a 'piston' / 'wrap around' concept, where the toroidal propellant tanks of the first stage surrounded the second stage.

The orbiter would have a mass of 13 metric tons, and could deliver a payload of 4 metric tons to orbit in a 27 cubic meter payload compartment (dimensions 6.0 m long x 2.8 m x 1.6 m). Orbits from 120 to 1000 km altitude, and 45 to 94 degrees inclination could be achieved thanks to the flexibility of airborne launch. The orbiter was flown by a single pilot, had sufficient consumables for 5 to 12 hours of on-orbit operations, and was designed for 100 reuses. It could achieve up to 1000 km cross-range during re-entry and landed at a speed of 300 to 310 km/hr.

The design was found to be feasible but to have little growth potential. Greater payload could only be achieved by the completely different 49M using a new super-heavy carrier aircraft and orbiter. Therefore it was succeeded in the design studies by the 'Bizan' concept.

More... - Chronology...


Associated Launch Vehicles
  • System 49 Russian air-launched winged orbital launch vehicle. The Spiral project was not cancelled with the decision to proceed with the large Buran spaceplane. Instead flight test of the orbiter continued but the launcher design was rethought. The ambitious Mach 4 air-breathing first stage was abandoned. Instead the rocket stages and the manned Spiral orbiter were mounted on the back of an An-124 subsonic transport. This concept would evolve through the Bizan concept to the MAKS of the 1980's, which reached the hardware development stage. More...
  • System 49-M Russian winged orbital launch vehicle. The 49M was an application of the system 49 design concept, but with a larger carrier aircraft. The system would have a 770 tonne gross takeoff mass. The orbiter/rocket stage combination weighted 370 tonnes, with the orbiter mass being 28 tonnes in orbit, including a 9 tonne payload in a 8.0 m x 3.3 m diameter payload bay. The tripropellant single rocket stage was equipped 1 x NK-43 / 11D112 engine burning Lox/Kerosene and 2 x RD-57 / 11D57 engines burning Lox/LH2. The orbiter could have one or two crew, and was designed for 100 reuses. Development costs for the new heavy lift aircraft and larger orbiter would be too high, and the design was abandoned in favour of the Bizan concept. More...

System 49 Chronology


1977 - . LV Family: System 49. Launch Vehicle: System 49.
  • System 49 air-launched spaceplane design begun - . Nation: USSR. The Spiral project was not cancelled with the decision to proceed with the large Buran spaceplane. Instead flight test of the orbiter continued but the launcher design was rethought. The ambitious Mach 4 air-breathing first stage was abandoned in favour of launch from an existing subsonic heavy transport. The first iteration of the new design was undertaken in 1977-1978 as the AKS project at the Scientific Research Institute 'Rosa'. This used the second rocket stage and orbiter stage of Spiral, designated RUOS in this study. This design was the starting point that would evolve through the System 49 and Bizan designs, finally resulting in the MAKS of 1988.

    The System 49 design had the same arrangement as Spiral. The rocket stages and the Spiral orbiter were mounted on the back of an An-124 subsonic transport. By the time of the design, the Spiral configuration had been proven in the MiG-105-11 and BOR-4. The combined orbiter and rocket stages, weight 200 tonnes, would be launched at an altitude of 10 km and a speed of Mach 0.7. Effective velocity gain compared to a vertical launch from the ground was 270 m/s.

    The first stage would use Lox/Kerosene propellants and 2 NK-43 / 11D112 engines. The second stage was equipped with a single RD-57M / 11D57M engine burning Lox/LH2 propellants. Two rocket stage layouts were studied: a traditional tandem scheme, and a 'piston' / 'wrap around' concept, where the toroidal propellant tanks of the first stage surrounded the second stage.

    The orbiter would have a mass of 13 tonnes, and could deliver a payload of 4 tonnes to orbit in a 27 cubic metre payload compartment (dimensions 6.0 m long x 2.8 m x 1.6 m). Orbits from 120 to 1000 km altitude, and 45 to 94 degrees inclination could be achieved thanks to the flexibility of airborne launch. The orbiter was flown by a single pilot, had sufficient consumables for 5 to 12 hours of on-orbit operations, and was designed for 100 reuses. It could achieve up to 1000 km cross-range during re-entry and landed at a speed of 300 to 310 km/hr.

    The design was found to be feasible but to have little growth potential. Greater payload could only be achieved by the completely different 49M using a new super-heavy carrier aircraft and orbiter. Therefore it was succeeded in the design studies by the 'Bizan' concept.


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