Space: Saudis in Space

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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.

 


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