Space: Russians Using Fighter Jets to Launch Satellites


March 10, 2006: It turns out that Russia had developed an ASAT (Anti-Satellite Missile), in response to the United States program that actually resulted in the destruction of a low flying (555 kilometers up) satellite. The Russians now propose to use their ASAT to launch low flying satellites.

The United States ASAT program used a specially equipped F-15 to zoom to a high altitude, and just the right location, to launch a 1.2 ton ASM-135A missile, which then homed in on the satellite and destroyed it. The missile had two stages, plus a homing warhead. Development began in 1977. The first, and only, live test took place in 1985, when a worn out communications satellite was destroyed by the missile. Shortly thereafter, Congress shut down the program, believing that ASAT violated treaties regarding the military use of space. This did not discourage the Russians, who began working on their own ASAT after the U.S. program was cancelled. Progress on the Russian ASAT was kept secret, although it was known (or believed) to exist.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many previously secret Russian weapons projects were revealed, if only briefly, and often in little detail. One of them was the Russian ASAT. Now, the Kazcosmos company, in Kazakhstan, which developed the Russian ASAT (in cooperation with a Moscow based research institute), is putting together a satellite launching operation. The Russian ASAT used a MiG-31 recon aircraft to launch the missile. Such a system could only launch small satellite (no more than a few hundred pounds.) But such "microsats" have become quite popular, due to cheaper and more effective miniature electronics. Many regular satellite launches now include one or more microsats as part of a multi satellite package. Kazcosmos has not yet announced prices, but they are expected to be cheap.




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