Russia to End Rockot Launches

Rockot launch vehicle

The end of the line is coming soon for Russia’s Rockot (Rokot) launch vehicle.

The converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has only two more missions on its manifest before the program ends. In the months ahead, it will launch Sentinel 5P and Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellites for ESA and the European Commission.

The Sentinel 5P launch is set for June. Tass reports the Sentinel 3B flight will likely occur late this year or early 2018.

Rockot is being phased out in favor of the newer Angara-1.2 and Soyuz-2.1v boosters, which are capable of launching lighter payloads.

Rockot is a converted SS-19 ICBM built by Khrunichev and operated by Eurockot Launch Services. Flights are conducted from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

The three-stage booster is capable of lifting 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and 1,200 kilograms (2,646 lb) into sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Rockot has launched 30 times, with 27 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

The retirement of Rockot ends Russia’s second program that used  in converted Soviet-era ICBMs as satellite launchers. In 2015, the country ended a joint program with Ukraine to convert SS-18 missiles into Denpr launch vehicles.

Dnepr was capable of lifting 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) to LEO and 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) to SSO.

The booster was launched 22 times, with 21 successes and one failure. The last flight was on March 25, 2015.

Dnepr launches were conducted out of Yasny in Russia and Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

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Iridium Delays Dnepr Launch, Moves Up Falcon 9 Flight

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

In another blow to Ukraine’s struggling space sector, Iridium Communications has postponed plans to launch two Iridium Next satellites aboard a Dnepr launcher.  Instead, Iridium will move up a scheduled launch of spacecraft aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Space News reports the launch had been scheduled for April. However, the Russian Ministry of Defense has not yet issued the required licenses to launch the booster from Yasny spaceport.

Dnepr is a joint program between Ukraine and Russia under which decommissioned ballistic missiles are converted into satellite launches. Russia has been looking to phase out use of the booster in favor of domestic launchers amid political tensions with Ukraine.

The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Ukraine’s space sector has lost up to 80 percent of its revenues as a result of canceled orders from Russia.

The first two Iridium Next spacecraft were to be launched aboard Dnepr so engineers could verify their design and operations. The company plans to launch 72 Iridium Next spacecraft by the end of 2017.

Iridium now plans to launch the first 10 satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket whose flight has been moved up to July from August. A second Falcon 9 would launch an additional 10 spacecraft in October.

The Dnepr launcher could be used later in the Iridium Next deployment sequence if the required licenses are obtained.