Space: ICBMs For Peace

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June 5,2008: A converted Russian ICBM put several Russian military satellites into orbit recently. For the last three years, Russia has been offering cheap ($15 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 $3,400 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 success of these programs has led to developing alternative "warheads" for existing ICBMs and SLBMs (sea launched ICBMs), that would contain small military satellites. These would be for photography, communications, electronic warfare or whatever. Mainly, it would be for stuff that had to get into orbit fast.

 


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