SpaceX snub: Russia’s new Amur rocket sparks claims of ‘stolen’ Falcon 9 design

The Falcon 9 has cemented SpaceX’s place in the spaceflight industry when in 2015 it became the first rocket to launch into space and safely land back on Earth. Since then, SpaceX has remained the only company to maintain a fleet of reusable rockets, although Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is slowly catching up with its New Shepard boosters. Russia’s state space agency Roscosmos has now joined the fray, unveiling plans to develop a reusable, methane-powered rocket that strongly resembles the Falcon 9.

The Amur is a two-stage, medium-class carrier launch vehicle touted as Russia’s “first reusable liquid natural gas-powered” rocket.

Roscosmos aims to launch each rocket up to 100 times, bringing them back for vertical landings along the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Russia.

According to Alexander Bloshenko, Roscosmos executive director for long-term programs and science, the Amur will “reliable, like a Kalashnikov assault rifle.”

And at first glance, the Amur appears to be eerily similar to the Falcon 9.

Both rockets feature latticed control fins mounted towards the top of the rocket’s first stage.

The Amur also features folding landing legs similar to those found on the Falcon 9.

The design similarities have led to claims the Amur is a carbon-copy of the Falcon 9.

One person said on Instagram: “Bro, don’t be copying Falcon-9s like that.”

A second commented on Roscosmos’s page: “Stop stealing SpaceX’s rockets.”

Other people suggested the design was “oddly familiar” or “inspired by Elon”.

However, there are some key differences between the two rockets that make the Amur stand out.

The Russian rocket will be considerably smaller and less powerful than the Falcon 9.

Once complete, Amur will stand at about 180ft (55m) in height, compared to Falcon 9’s 208ft (63m).

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Amur will also carry up to 11.6 tons worth of payload into low-Earth orbit (LEO), compared to Falcon 9’s lofty 25.1 tons.

Amur’s booster stage will also feature five RD-0169A methane-oxygen engines, compared to SpaceX’s nine liquid oxygen and kerosene Merlin engines.

And the rocket is still in its design phase, with the first launch expected no earlier than in 2026.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, 49, welcomed the news and urged Roscosmos to go fully reusable with its rockets.

He tweeted: “It’s a step in the right direction, but they should really aim for full reusability by 2026.

“Larger rocket would also make sense for literal economies of scale.

“Goal should be to minimise cost per useful ton to orbit or it will at best serve a nice market.”

Because of its smaller size and payload capabilities, the Amur will also be much cheaper to launch – about £17million ($22million).

For comparison, Falcon 9’s cost between £38million and £46million ($50million and $60million) per launch.

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