Swords to ploughshares: Russian ICBMs to be repurposed as commercial launch rockets (VIDEO)
Russia is likely to use the Topol-M nuclear-tipped missiles, which are due to be phased out of service, as launch vehicles for civilian space missions. Many of their predecessors were repurposed in a similar way.
The conversion program is likely to begin in about two years, according to one of the developers of Topol ICBMs, Yury Solomonov. He is currently involved with the diversification department of the United Rocket and Space Corporation, a state-run corporation that serves as an umbrella for several leading Russian space industries.
“What we need is greenlight from the President, which we expect in November. Then we can prepare a launch in two years,” Solomonov told reporters. The proposed conversion program, which has already been approved by the Russian government, will deliver competitive launch vehicles from outdated ICBMs and will also support jobs in the Russian space industry thanks to new contracts.
Topol-M (known in the West as the SS-27 Sickle) inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) systems use RT-2PM2 rocket boosters. They may be refurbished as civilian launch rockets in the same way as their predecessors, the RT-2PMs. Some of the old 3-stage solid-propellant rockets were re-made into launch vehicles called Start and Start-1, which had five and four stages respectively. The four-stage variant was used to place satellites into orbit, but the only attempt to do so with the five-stage Start rocket ended in failure.
The Russian armed forces are currently in the process of replacing Topol-M missiles with the more modern RS-24 Yars, which have been produced since 2010. The Yars is available in both silo-based and road-mobile variants.
Seven Start rockets were launched between 1993 and 2006, with only one failure. The rockets boosted from the Plesetsk military cosmodrome and the now-mothballed Svobodny, both in Russia. The Israeli EROS B Earth observation satellite was the most notable of the payloads launched.
Russia has a history of repurposing ICBM boosters as civilian launch vehicles. The Rokot booster is the converted version of the RS-18B (UR-100N). It has been used in over 30 missions, most recently in April, and at least one more launch is schedule for the next year. The future of the Rokot is bleak, however, as the booster’s control systems were produced in Ukraine. Due to the strained relations between Kiev and Moscow, unless Russia develops a replacement the remaining stockpile of the 'Stilettos,' as the missile is called by NATO, is likely to be scrapped.
An older version of the RS-18 was also redesigned as a civilian booster, called Strela, but only had three launches. Unlike the Rokot, it was launched from a silo and lacked a third stage. Some of the Cold War-era RS-36 missiles were likewise repurposed as the Cyclone and Dnepr launch systems.
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