May 5, 2021
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From mine to peaceful space

At the end of March, the Ministry of Defense firmly declared that merchants would not be able to cash in on domestic ICBMs. We are talking about a program of “disposal” of ballistic missiles by sending them into orbit with a payload in the form of satellites. That is, about the reforging of the elements of the rocket sword, which are nearing the end of their resources, into launch vehicles. This statement was made in connection with the massive spread of false information that, as a result of the modernization of the Rokot rocket to the import-substituted Rokot-M modification, it will be used for commercial launches. As it was with the Russian-Ukrainian “Rokot”.

No, in a press release from the Ministry of Defense it was reported that the modernization is being carried out within the framework of the state defense order and at the expense of the military department. Therefore, Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, which was the operator of commercial launches of the Rokot rocket from 1997 to 2018, has nothing to do with the modernization project. All launches of Rokot-M will be carried out in the interests of the military.

Satellite saddled a combat rocket

There is no fundamental difference between ICBMs and launch vehicles (LV) in terms of propulsion systems. Only the control systems differ. This is confirmed by the history of the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite. Since the military component of the missile program had the highest priority in the 1950s and 1960s, the satellite was “in line”. Perhaps it would have been launched somewhere near the end of the 50s. The Korolev Design Bureau worked hard on the project to create the R-7 rocket with a new warhead. In the fall of 1957, it was planned to carry out flight tests. However, it turned out that there was a serious error in the design of the warhead.

“Orders were accepted from everyone who was willing to pay $ 44 million for the launch. Including from the Pentagon. Rokot proved to be a reliable launch vehicle. For a quarter of a century of its operation, only one launch was unsuccessful ”

Its heat shield could collapse during flight. And this error cannot be quickly eliminated. The rocket was released. And with its help, on October 4, 1957, the first satellite in history was launched into orbit.

Actually, all the first launch vehicles were practically the same R-7. Even now, the Soyuz launch vehicle uses R-7 blocks as the first and second stages, and the third stage uses the upgraded engine from the R-9 ICBM. And in the United States, too, the military and space programs in rocketry have been overlapping for a long time.

As the number of ICBMs accumulated, they began to think about what to do with them when their resource was exhausted. Recycling is extremely difficult. Especially when you consider that all liquid ICBMs contain an enormous amount of heptyl, which may well be attributed to nerve agents. It is easier, and sometimes even cheaper, to use them as a launch vehicle for launching satellites. But for this it is necessary to modernize them. At the same time, the economic effect depends on the number of disposed missiles. That is, it is desirable to distribute the cost of developing an ICBM-based launch vehicle over a large number of products.

Also, the economic effect depends on the power of the rocket, its ability to launch into orbit, preferably a large payload mass. And here in the programs of “orbital disposal” not everything is in the best way.

“Satan” in space is not so strong

The first demobilized missile was the Cyclone launch vehicle. It was created on the basis of the R-36orb ICBM orbital attack. It put into orbit a warhead with a capacity of 2.3 megawatts, which could attack the enemy from space, being at any point in a circular orbit. The uniqueness of this missile consisted in the unpredictability of its behavior for missile defense systems, in the need to create an interceptor system capable of operating in all directions of strike. The R-36orb, created at the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, was put into service in 1969 and existed until 1983. And already in 1975, they created “Cyclone”, which was subsequently modernized three times. Initially, the Cyclone LV was built and launched into space. And later it came down to alterations of the R-36orb being removed from service in the launch vehicle.


However, the payload in the 180-ton launch vehicle did not carry so much weight – 3600 kilograms. That is, a heavy ICBM turned into a light launch vehicle. This is due to the fact that thermonuclear warheads of ICBMs already in the 60s had an insignificant mass and volume. And all the power of the ICBM was aimed at achieving the maximum flight range, a significant section of which passes in the atmosphere decelerating flight. True, this is not so typical for the R-36orb. But other ICBMs, which still have to spend energy on maneuvering to overcome missile defense zones, are not so giants for space.

According to START-1, Russia was to destroy half of all ICBMs RS-20 “Voevoda”, called “Satan” in NATO. Since the lead developer of the rocket was the Yuzhnoye design bureau, together with the Ukrainian side, the Voevoda was modernized into the Dnipro launch vehicle. The first launch of a missile converted from an ICBM with a British satellite took place on April 21, 1999. The project proved to be economically successful. “Dnepr” is capable of placing up to 3,700 kilograms of payload into a low reference orbit. The cost of one launch is about $ 25 million. Thus, for every kilogram put into space, there are 6.7 thousand. At the same time, an ICBM with a record launch weight of 211 tons and a length of 34 meters turned out to be a light launch vehicle.

From 1999 to 2015, 22 commercial launches were completed. 140 spacecraft from 20 countries have been launched into orbit. At the same time, there was only one Russian satellite. Saudi Arabia became the record holder with 12 satellites. 21 launches were successful. One, which took place in 2006, was unsuccessful: then, as a result of the accident, 18 satellites burned out, including one Russian and 11 American.

The operator of these launches was the Kosmotras joint company established by Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. In the middle of the last decade, for obvious reasons, Ukraine withdrew from Kosmotras and it ceased to exist.

“Stiletto” becomes “Rokot”

In Russia, the Strategic Missile Forces has a record number of various ICBMs for global practice. Liquid – “Voevoda” and UR-100N UTTH “Stilet”. And soon “Sarmat” will appear. Solid fuel – “Topol”, “Topol-M”, “Yars”. There is information about the development of another solid-fuel ICBM – “Kedr”. At the same time, all solid-fuel missiles exist in two modifications – silo-based and mobile ground-based. And all these are candidates for the RN after the exhaustion of resources.


Nevertheless, the command of the Strategic Missile Forces applied a rather original algorithm. The oldest liquid-propellant rockets are the UR-100N UTTH. And they must be replaced first. But they are equipped with the Avangard hypersonic units, which were actually planned for the Sarmat. “Sarmat” should come to replace “Voevoda”. When this process begins, the Avangards will be reinstalled on the Sarmat, which will be put into the mines in place of the Voevoda. And the UR-100N UTTH will be launched into space. Meanwhile, the UR-100N UTTH rocket, which was produced in large quantities, has already been “cosmicized.” And twice. And now it’s time to do it for the third time.

At the end of the 1980s, OKB-52 (Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center), with the participation of the Kharkov NPO Elektropribor (NPP Khartron), developed the Rokot launch vehicle on the basis of the UR-100N UTTH. After a series of lengthy tests in 1994, the first launch of the rocket with the Briz-KM upper stage took place. Commercial, but rather advertising, since an amateur radio satellite was launched into orbit for a little money.

Until 2019, despite the withdrawal of the Ukrainians from the project, who slammed the door four years ago, 35 launches were carried out. Orders were accepted from everyone who was willing to pay $ 44 million for the launch. Including from the Pentagon. Rokot proved to be a reliable launch vehicle. For a quarter of a century of its operation, only one launch was unsuccessful.

“Rokot” made it possible to launch a load weighing 2,150 kilograms into a low reference orbit. That is, one rocket could lift up to ten or more satellites into space. The launch operator registered a joint venture between the transnational company EADS Astrium (51%) and the Khrunichev Center (49%) – Eurockot Launch Services GmbH. In this case, the Plesetsk military cosmodrome was used. In the mid-90s, this was the order of the day.

In the past decade, NPP “Khartron”, which developed the “Rokot” control system, refused to supply the necessary components and equipment for political reasons. They put an end to the project. This was largely due to the success of the Khrunichev Center in the creation of the Angara-1.2 light rocket. In 2014, she successfully completed her first test flight. And into a low reference orbit, it is capable of delivering more than a ton of a large payload – 3500 kilograms. It is important that not poisonous heptyl, but kerosene is used as fuel. Therefore, it was decided that the “Rokot” will replace the light “Angara”.

Getting Rid of Neighborhood Legacy

Roskosmos is a huge corporation that is managed in a chaotic manner. Since 2014, nothing has happened to the lightweight “Angara”. Absolutely nothing. Therefore, the Ministry of Defense, for which launches of military satellites are important, decided to return to Rokot. But already, of course, without Ukrainian co-executors. The Ministry of Defense financed the work that has been carried out at the Khrunichev Center since the second half of the last decade.

In March of this year, Eurockot Launch Services GmbH suddenly burst through, informing the media that the first launch of the new Rokot-M rocket would take place in the second half of 2020. And it will be, as in the good old days, commercial. As mentioned above, this impudence infuriated the Ministry of Defense, which gave the appropriate rebuke.

Nothing is said about the co-executors of the Khrunichev Center in terms of management. Probably, it will be someone from the Radioelectronic Technologies concern. But in principle, the center itself is able to cope with the task, given that this is not a new development, but modernization in order to switch to domestic components. 3.4 billion were allocated for the whole complex of works

rubles. Of these, 690 million will be spent on the development of the Russian control system. Creation of a new upper stage “Breeze-KM2” and preparation of production for its manufacture cost 1.45 billion. The modernization of the technical and launch complexes at the Plesetsk cosmodrome will cost 450 million. 750 million will be spent on the preparation and implementation of the first launch. The first launch of the Rokot-M LV is scheduled for the second half of 2021. By 2028, 40 launches must be completed.

It must be said that NPO Mashinostroyenia and NPP “Khartron” at the beginning of the century made an attempt on the basis of “Stilet” to make another launch vehicle, which would be more effective than “Rokot”. The Strela rocket was launched in December 2003 from the Baikonur cosmodrome. In total, three launches were made – one test and two with a payload.

The designers have achieved an amazing low cost, having brought a minimum of “outsider” into the design of the Stiletto. As a booster block “Strela” was even used a block for the individual guidance of warheads to the target. The launch cost slightly exceeded $ 10 million. However, the military did not like the rocket, and the low payload of 1,700 kilograms made them very depressed. We decided that only businessmen should be engaged in the “utilization” of the “Stilet”.

But the time is coming for “old age” and for the younger class of ICBMs – solid-fuel missiles, created at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Engineering (MIT). They are lighter than liquid ones. And therefore, in the case of alteration, the launch vehicle is capable of launching a smaller payload into space. And MIT was even a little ahead of the events, offering both the military and the merchants the “Start” launch vehicle, built using the propulsion modules of the Topol ICBM. Although the problem of disposal of “Topol” was not yet present. At six quite successful starts, which were held from 1993 to 2006 in a very ragged rhythm, everything ended. Since the launch vehicle weighing less than 50 tons was able to launch only 400 kilograms of payload into low orbit.

12 years later, MIT proposed the Ministry of Defense to dispose of the Topol with the help of the Start launch vehicle starting in 2022. The time has already come. With might and main introduced “Yars”, going to replace the “Topols”. The Ministry of Defense did not give a clear answer. And then an unexpected event happened. At the end of 2019, the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Saudi company for technological development and investment TAQNIA signed an agreement on joint investments in the modernization of the Start launch vehicle for the purpose of commercial use in the interests of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Vladimir Tuchkov

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