Russia Likely to End Dnepr Launch Program

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Russian media are reporting that it is “very likely” that the nation will stop launching Dnepr rockets, ending a 13-year joint program with Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The articles cite the high cost of launching payloads on the converted Soviet-era SS-18 Satan missiles. They also point to the rocket’s toxic hypergolic fuel as being unsafe for the environment.

Dnepr rockets are converted in Ukraine and launched at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome and Russia’s Yasny launch complex. There have been 17 successful Dnepr launches that have orbited 62 spacecraft from 12 nations.

Over the next year, Russia will introduce two new light launchers, Soyuz 2-1v and Angara, that are likely to loft some of the satellites that Dnepr normally handles. Both of these rockets use non-toxic fuels and they are produced domestically, reducing Russia’s dependence on foreign nations for launch services. This latter goal has been a key concern since the fall of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago left some of that nation’s launch and rocket production facilities in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

It is not clear whether Ukraine and Kazakhstan will continue launching Dnepr rockets if the Russians pull out of the program.