A Rokot booster placed a Russian military satellite into orbit on Friday on its last mission for the Russian Ministry of Defence.
The booster lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia and successfully placed the Geo-IK-2 No.13 military mapping satellite into orbit.
“The Rokot rocket’s launch was the last one under the Defense Ministry’s program. Another one is due for Roscosmos. The rocket’s operation is over because there are plans for using an advanced type of this vehicle,” Major-General Nikolai Nestechuk told Tass.
Nestechuk did not specify what advanced booster will be used in Rokot’s place.
Rokots are an adaptation of retired SS-19 Stiletto intercontinental ballistic missiles. The booster has launched 33 times with 30 successes, two failures and one partial failure since 1990.
Rokot was formerly marketed as a commercial launcher by Eurockot Launch Services, a joint venture of Russia’s Khrunichev and ArianeGroup. However, that program ended as Russia decided to phase out the booster.
The Eurockot website says the company’s activities are “under redefinition. We will start accepting launch requests in the near future.”
The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.
Russia once again led the world in orbital launches in 2013, keeping the International Space Station supplied with a study stream of crew members and cargo while earning hard currency with commercial satellite launches.
Although the vast majority of Russia’s launches were successful, the spectacular failure in July of a Proton rocket — which nosedived into the ground shortly after liftoff — accelerated efforts to reform the nation’s failure-prone space program. By the end of the year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a new leader and a major effort was underway to consolidate a large part of the bloated and inefficient space sector under a single government-owned company.
During 2013, Russia introduced a new variant of its venerable Soyuz rocket while also making progress on constructing a new spaceport in the Far East and developing a larger human spacecraft to replace the Soyuz transport and a heavy-lift booster to facilitate deep space exploration.