April 27, 2007:
Saudi Arabia put six more
satellites into orbit, giving it a total of twelve circling the earth. The six
new ones were launched by a converted Russian ICBM. For the last two years,
Russia has been offering cheap ($14 million per shot) satellite launch services
using converted ICBMs. After developing a new third stage, the Russian "Rokot"
(demilitarized SS-19 ICBMs) are available for use as low cost launchers. The
Russian price comes out to about $3,300 per pound of stuff put into space. This
is a third of the rate when using a regular commercial launchers. Each Rokot
launch can put about 1.9 tons into low orbit. This is sufficient for many
commercial satellites, and is especially handy for the increasing number of
communications and photo satellites going up. The Russians will have a lock on
this low cost market until the end of the decade, when their supply of Cold War
surplus ICBMs run out, and equally cheap commercial launchers (in development)
come on the market. The United States has a similar satellite launching
program, using recycled Minuteman 2 ICBMs, to put half a ton into low earth
orbit. These are launched from a space port off the coast of Virginia.
The Saudi satellites weigh less than fifty pounds,
and are basically for research projects. Some can take low resolution photos,
but higher rez images are available from commercial satellite services. The
Saudi project will eventually put 24 of these mini-satellites into orbit.