February 22nd, 2017 marked the end of an era: after 43 years, the final Soyuz-U vehicle launched from Pad 1/5, or “Gagarins Start” at Baikonour Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, sending the Progress 66 (Internally known as Progress MS-05) supply vehicle to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz-U Booster variant is the most flown rocket configuration in history, serving from 1974 until this last launch in early 2017. Highly reliable, it was used for most manned launches until 2002, and served well for Progress supply vehicles, and other missions, on up to its final flight. In 1979, it launched 43 times, more than any other rocket had in a single year. 788 total flights, far more than any single rocket variant.
Truly it was a workhorse of the Soviet, and later Russian space fleet. Again, it was just one of many versions of the Soyuz booster, a design which dates back over 50 years, and is based on the 60 year old R-7 design – reliability at its finest, to be sure.
While there are still Soyuz booster variants – the Soyuz-FG and the Soyuz-2 – still flying, their time is, sadly, coming to an end as Russia develops it’s next generation boosters and manned spacecraft. An urge for simplicity, and modernization, you could say, that goes beyond the inherent design of the R-7 legacy.
Still, that’s years away. For now, enjoy a clip of the launch, and another of the assembly of the final Soyuz-U booster.