The Return of Satan: Roscosmos Eyes SS-18 Missiles as Satellite Launchers Again

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin said the state space corporation is once again eyeing the use of converted SS-18 Satan (aka, R-36M2 Voyevoda) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for small satellite launches, TASS reports.

“The matter is now being discussed, first of all with the Defense Ministry, because they are the number one here,” Rogozin said on Saturday, answering to a question about the possibility of converting Voyevoda ICBMs.

He said it would be “wrong to simply scrap” this “beautiful, legendary ICBM.”

“We could easily refit it for projects related to putting small spacecraft to civilian orbits. The matter is being discussed. This tactics should be applied to all combat missiles when they are being removed from combat duty, including Sarmat,” he said.

Rogozin said that testing of the new silo-based Sarmat ICBM should be completed by the end of 2020, TASS reported. Their deployment would free up SS-18 missiles for conversion to satellite launchers.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Russia previously used decommission SS-18 ICBMs as satellite launchers under a joint program with Ukraine named Dnepr. The rockets were designed at the Yuzhnoe Design Bureau in Ukraine during the 1970’s when it was still part of the Soviet Union,

Dnepr boosters launched 22 times with 21 successes and one failure between 1999 and 2015. The program ended amid tensions over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its invasion and occupation of the eastern part of the country.

Dnepr boosters were capable of launching 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO). Commercial launches, which were handled by ISC Kosmotras, cost $29 million, according to Wikipedia.

Since ending the Dnepr program, Roscosmos has had limited options for smaller missions.  It has used a smaller retired ICBM renamed Rockot for launching payloads weighing up to 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) to LEO.

Russia has phased out the use of Rockot for commercial use, although additional government launches are planned. The booster has a record of 29 successes, two failures and one partial failure in 32 launch attempts.

The Angara 1.2 booster can launch up to 3,800 kg (8,378 lb) into LEO, which is close to Dnepr’s capacity. However, the booster — which is part of the Angara family of rockets — has not yet made its first orbital flight. A variant named Angara 1.2PP conducted a successful suborbital flight test carrying a mass simulator as a payload in July 2014.


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