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

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 7, 2019
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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.


Roscosmos in Talks on Converting SS-18 Satan ICBMs for Space Launches

Roscosmos Chief Says Closing Stage of Sarmat Tests Expected by End of 2020

12 responses to “The Return of Satan: Roscosmos Eyes SS-18 Missiles as Satellite Launchers Again”

  1. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    Last gasps. As they retire the SS-18’s and replace them with SS-27’s they’ll try to cash out on the old boosters. Hopefully the US and Germany keep the sanctions on to prevent these launchers soaking up business from the likes of RocketLab. But The likes of RocketLab would do well to lower their prices if they can. One SS-18 could launch an entire years worth of RocketLab launches and no doubt at a huge discount per kg and per satellite.

    • duheagle says:

      Not at $29 million per launch. And that reckons without the already-demonstrated poorer reliability of ex-Soviet ICBM’s as satellite launchers.

      • Andrew Tubbiolo says:

        Not many SS-18’s failed. Offhand I can only remember 1, but I’m of course ready to be wrong. An Electron can put 225 kg to LEO for 5e6 dollars, or $22,000/kg. An SS-18 can put 4500 kg into LEO for … Let’s go with your numbers $29e6. So that’s $6400/kg. If you can fill it up, the SS-18 steals the show.

        • duheagle says:

          One failure is correct. But Dnepr hasn’t flown in over four years, over twice the length of its previous maximum between-missions interval. And only the last three of Dnepr’s missions occurred after Russia’s seizure of Crimea ended cooperation between Roscosmos and the SS-18’s Ukrainian builder. I’m not optimistic about Dnepr’s future reliability.

    • Jeff Smith says:

      I’m concerned about how this will go. They use rockets that are out of warranty and won’t get the technical assistance from the design bureau. Either one would be a nonstarter, together they are almost a guarantee this won’t work out smoothly. Either this is just talk, or they’ll have to sink money and engineering time to get these to work.

  2. duheagle says:

    Reading between the lines, it would seem the Russians are even more destitute than we thought. Despite no help in prospect from the Ukrainians who originally built the things, the Russians are going to – once more – repurpose their extant fleet of 40-year-old ICBM’s as satellite launchers.

    That likely means the unimpressive reliability record these vehicles turned in on their first go-around as satellite launchers will look good by comparison with what is to come.

    It also suggests that Angara 1.2 is simply too expensive to build new in order to support missions that can be flown on already-long-since-built-and-paid-for Soviet-legacy ICBM’s.

    The fact that Rogozin saw fit to mention Sarmat, the missile that is supposed to incrementally replace the elderly SS-18’s, suggests that Roscosmos has, at least internally, acknowledged the virtual certainty that Russia’s financial situation is not going to materially improve in the foreseeable future. Penury, in other words, is the “New Normal” for Russian space efforts.

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      The Russian economy is very dependent on oil and gas exports. With the United States replacing it as the number one oil producer the Russian economy will only get worst. Add in the huge surplus in natural gas in West Texas that will soon find its way to Gulf ports and Europe prospects for Russian gas exports will decline as well. That will also end the stranglehold Russia has on European energy allowing them to stand up to Russia in the future.

      Really I see ISS and the Soyuz as their last hurrah in human space flight. When they end so will their HSF program.

    • Lee says:

      “That likely means the unimpressive reliability record these vehicles
      turned in on their first go-around as satellite launchers will look good
      by comparison with what is to come.”

      21 successes out of 22 launches isn’t exactly an “unimpressive reliability” record…

      • duheagle says:

        It’s worse than any extant Western launcher with equivalent or superior specifications. It, admittedly, could be worse still. Rokot, a repurposed version of the smaller, but comparably elderly, SS-19 ICBM has had three failures in 32 launches.

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