Russia Looks to Phase Out Rockot Launch Vehicle

Rockot launch vehicle
Rockot launch vehicle

It looks like we can add Rockot to the list of satellite launch vehicles that the Russians will be phasing out.

Russian media are reporting that the converted ballistic missile will be replaced by Angara and Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicles, which have had their initial flight tests over the past 14 months.

In addition to the availability of alternatives, there’s another reason for phasing out the Rockot: it depends upon components from Ukraine, with whom Russia is in conflict.

Media reports say that nation has banned export of Rockot parts in retaliation for the Russian annexation of Crimea and its support for rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

There are at least two Rockot launches scheduled for this year, one on March 3 and another late in the year. The booster is primarily used to light launch satellites from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

In recent weeks, Russian officials have announced plans to phase out use of two other launch vehicles, Dnepr and Zenit. Dnepr is a joint venture with Ukraine involving the conversion of a ballistic missile into a light satellite launcher.  Zenit is also a joint Russian-Ukrainian rocket used for communications satellites.

The phasing out of these boosters was not totally unexpected. The replacement Angara rocket is a modular family of launch vehicles with a range of payload capacities designed to replace multiple of Soviet-era boosters, including the venerable Proton.

One of the goals of Angara is to reduce Russian dependence on outside suppliers like Ukraine, which inherited part of the Soviet Union’s space industry after the break up of that nation in 1991. Older rockets like the Proton also use toxic fuels while Angara’s propellants are more benign.

Further, the Rockot and Dnepr are based on decommissioned ballistic missiles that are no longer in production. They would have to be replaced eventually given the limited supplies of these rockets.

Zenit boosters are used primarily by Sea Launch, which has struggled with launch failures and has only captured a small part of the communications satellite launch market. Company officials have announced they are looking for a new booster to use aboard its floating launch platform.

A separate company, Land Launch, also uses Zenit boosters for satellite launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.