Military Review

Conversion of ICBMs into launch vehicles. Problems and Prospects


Preparation for the launch of the rocket "Rokot". Plesetsk, August 2018 Photo by Roscosmos

Since the sixties, our country has operated light-class launch vehicles built on the basis of various types of combat ballistic missiles. Regular launches of such missiles were carried out until recently, after which they had to be suspended indefinitely due to the presence of characteristic problems. However, the necessary measures were taken, and in the near future, the converted ICBMs will again be able to send payloads into orbit.

Recent history

The first LV projects based on combat ballistic missiles were implemented back in the sixties. Over the next few decades, such complexes were used only in the interests of the military department. In the early nineties, there was a proposal for the commercial use of such missiles. Due to this, it was possible to make a profit, as well as get rid of the existing ICBMs to be destroyed in accordance with new international agreements.

In November 1990, the first test launch of the new Rokot launch vehicle, developed at the V.I. Khrunichev with the participation of the Ukrainian company "Khartron". The new rocket was made on the basis of the UR-100N UTTH serial product by replacing the control system and refining the payload stage.

The last launch of Rokot, December 27, 2019 Photo by Roscosmos

In 1994, a rocket of this type put a real load into orbit for the first time. A year later, the Center. Khrunicheva and the European company EADS Astrium created a joint venture Eurockot Launch Services, which was to take commercial orders. The first commercial launch of Rokot took place in May 2000; the last launches were carried out in 2019. A total of 34 flights were carried out, including two tests and one accident. Almost 80 spacecraft, mainly of Russian design, were launched into orbit.

By the end of the nineties, the joint efforts of the Russian and Ukrainian industries created the Dnepr launch vehicle, based on the R-36M ICBM. The project again provided for the maximum possible use of ready-made components with the replacement of individual systems and the adaptation of the head stage to the new load.

The new launch vehicles were operated by the Kosmotras company. The first commercial launch of Dnepr with a foreign satellite took place in April 1999. Regular launches continued until March 2015, and by that time, 22 launches were carried out. All but one were successful. More than 140 vehicles from two dozen countries have become the payload of missiles.

Loading the Dnepr rocket into the launcher. Photo "Kosmotras"

In 1993, the first launch of the Start light launch vehicle took place. It was developed by the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering on the basis of an ICBM from the Topol complex. Due to the limited technical characteristics, such a launch vehicle did not attract much attention from the customer. 1993 to 2006 performed only seven launches, and one ended in the emergency destruction of the rocket. Shortly after the last launch, the project was frozen due to the lack of real prospects.

In 2003, a test launch of the Strela rocket took place. This version of the conversion of the UR-100N UTTKh product was created at NPO Mashinostroeniya in cooperation with Khartron. The main differences from the "Rokot" consisted in a decrease in the degree of processing of the original design. In particular, a standard dilution stage was used as a booster unit. In 2013-14. "Strela" made two flights with a real load, after which the further fate of the project was called into question.

Cooperation problems

Thus, out of several proposed launch vehicles based on ICBMs, only two entered full-fledged operation and enjoyed success among customers. However, the flights of Dnepr and Rokot ended several years ago, and since then we have not had light launch vehicles at a ready base, which are cheap and easy to prepare.

Conversion of ICBMs into launch vehicles. Problems and Prospects

Start of the Dnipro. Photo "Kosmotras"

The reasons for this are simple and are associated with the deterioration of the international situation. Ukrainian industry has been involved in the development of a number of conversion projects. Thus, the Yuzhnoye design bureau and the Khartron company were involved in the Dnepr project. The latter also supplied equipment for the Rokot and Strela products.

In 2014-15. the new Ukrainian authorities ordered their businesses to sever military-technical and dual-technology cooperation with Russia. This made the further operation of the Dnieper and Strela impossible. The Rokot project also suffered, but to a lesser extent, which is why the launches continued until 2019 - until the accumulated stock of units was used up.

The second life of "Poplar"

In connection with the problems of the Rokot and Dnepr launch vehicles, the Russian MIT proposed to revive its Start project. The concept of a modified mobile soil complex for launching a load into orbit was presented at the Army-2016 forum. In the future, various statements were made about the features and prospects of such a project.

Start carrier rocket based on Topol. Photo

It was argued that the updated version of the "Start" has a number of important advantages. At that time, the Strategic Missile Forces launched the process of decommissioning the Topol ICBMs with the replacement of newer models. This made it possible to obtain a base for the launch vehicle in sufficient quantities. In addition, the project did not depend on unavailable imported components. New rockets could be launched from the Plesetsk and Vostochny cosmodromes.

At the beginning of 2019, it was reported that Roskosmos was studying the potential of the Start launch vehicle and the possibility of using it on Vostochny. In the autumn of the same year, the Russian Direct Investment Fund signed an agreement with TAQNIA from Saudi Arabia to jointly carry out work on the new version of Start. The finished rocket of the new modification was planned to be used in the interests of the two countries. Further news the progress of the "Start" has not been reported. Perhaps, while the design is underway, the finished rocket and space complex will be presented later.

The second "Rokot"

In August 2018, the Center. Khrunicheva announced the start of work on a new modification of the Rokot launch vehicle. It should differ from the basic product mainly by a modern control system built without Ukrainian participation. The basis of the missile, as before, will remain the UR-100N UTTH ICBM - a significant number of such products still remain in the arsenals of the Strategic Missile Forces.

PGRK "Topol", converted for use in the project "Start". Photo

Some details of the project under development appeared in the media. The new control system was estimated at 690 million rubles, and the new upper stage at 1,45 million rubles. The total development cost reached 3,4 billion rubles. At the same time, it became possible to conduct up to 40 launches by 2028. Further operation of the Rokot-2 launch vehicle remains questionable due to the expected reduction in the stock of basic ICBMs.

In June 2020, it was reported that an order for the development of "Rokot-2" from the Russian Ministry of Defense had appeared. In March 2021, Eurockot Launch Services, virtually dormant for the past several years, announced the imminent resumption of flights. According to her, the first launch of the Rokot-2 LV is to take place in the second half of next year, and it will be a commercial launch.

Almost immediately, the Ministry of Defense denied this information. It reported that the modernization of "Rokot" is carried out only in the interests of the Russian army. The new missiles are to launch military satellites, and their commercial use is not being considered.

Past and future

In recent decades, launch vehicles based on combat models have proven themselves well as a reliable and convenient means of launching a load into orbit. Starting in the nineties, samples of this kind made it possible to get rid of no longer needed military missiles, and bringing in a certain income.

The last launch of Strela, December 19, 2014. Photo

Light rockets of the "Rokot" or "Start" type are of interest to a certain circle of customers and have good commercial potential. But more recently, their production and operation have proved impossible, and potential orders may go to other contractors. This development of events was duly appreciated, and the necessary measures in the form of new projects were taken within an acceptable time frame.

The first launch of a new modification of the Rokot product is expected next year. The prospects for an improved Start project are still unclear, but there are no reasons for pessimism either. Other developments, such as "Strela" or "Dnepr", seem to have finally gone into history.

Thus, in a few years, Roscosmos and the Ministry of Defense will have at once several domestic light-class launch vehicles - some products of the Soyuz family, the new Angara-1.2 and at least one sample made by converting a combat missile. Government and commercial customers will have more choice, and the disposal of obsolete ICBMs will again generate revenue.
21 comment

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  1. Soldatov V.
    Soldatov V. April 29 2021 18: 42
    There are two sides to the conversion of ICBMs, good and bad - one is making money, the second is the poisoning of nature with super poisonous fuel. For peaceful launches, you need to make environmentally friendly missiles.
    1. KCA
      KCA April 29 2021 19: 23
      How does heptyl MBR differ from heptyl on which "Proton-M" flies?
      1. Soldatov V.
        Soldatov V. April 29 2021 19: 46
        Nothing, that's why they refuse the Proton.
    2. Victor Tsenin
      Victor Tsenin April 29 2021 19: 30
      Poplar, EMNIP solid fuel? About other ecology, with all the love for nature, we must fight in other ways, for example, build treatment facilities in every city on the river / sea, and at least teach people to throw cigarette butts into the trash, and not shit on the road.

      > and a new upper stage in the amount of 1,45 million rubles.
      There must be something wrong here.
      1. Cherry Nine
        Cherry Nine April 29 2021 21: 57
        Quote: Victor Tsenin
        There must be something wrong here.

        Apparently billions
      2. bayard
        bayard April 30 2021 10: 08
        Quote: Victor Tsenin
        Poplar, EMNIP solid fuel?

        Solid fuel. And the disposal of this solid fuel ... and storage, oh, how "non-ecological". The poison is terrible. And the products of combustion, too.
        So the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of solid-propellant missiles is by launching. Over a desolate uninhabited area. Then the products of combustion will be distributed over a large area and height, and while settling they will absorb atmospheric moisture ... Other methods of disposal are much more dangerous.
        But here and there, from the utilized rocket fuel, they make mountain explosives (for quarries) ... and lay them with land mines in directions dangerous for a breakthrough.
        And by no means LDPR sappers.
  2. iouris
    iouris April 29 2021 19: 44
    What, the war is lost?
  3. Mikle2000
    Mikle2000 April 29 2021 20: 58
    Not being able to replace even not Ukrainian missiles but partially Ukrainian modifications on Soviet missiles in 7 years since the beginning of the war with Ukraine - this speaks of the state of affairs in the space industry much more clearly than Rogozhin's broad kind face.
    1. Moore
      Moore 3 May 2021 18: 38
      What "Ukrainian" missiles are we talking about? About the Soviet, produced on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR? What does the modern territorial entity in those parts have to do with this?
      1. Mikle2000
        Mikle2000 3 May 2021 20: 39
        The Ukrainian missile, which has been trying to replace for many years and so far unsuccessfully, is Zenith. And the Ukrainian modifications that turn ICBMs into light space carriers are just discussed in this article, which we are commenting on. And they also cannot repeat (
        1. Moore
          Moore 4 May 2021 14: 21
          The Ukrainian missile, which has been trying to replace for many years and so far unsuccessfully, is Zenith.

          Is it okay that Zenit (Zenit-2), the first launches of which took place in 1985, is the development of the USSR? And the RD-171 for this carrier - whose is it?
          1. Mikle2000
            Mikle2000 5 May 2021 20: 32
            development of the USSR. But it was produced in Ukraine.
            So the Union and Proton are developments of the USSR. But they are made in Russia. And Zenith is not produced. One can rejoice at this fact - the Ukrainians were blown away. Or you can be sad - the potential of the countries of the former USSR has become even smaller. After all, it is Russia that does not take advantage of the now defunct Zenits and Rokots. Americans are not very worried about this.
  4. Old26
    Old26 April 29 2021 21: 26
    Quote: Mikle2000
    Not being able to replace even not Ukrainian missiles but partially Ukrainian modifications on Soviet missiles in 7 years since the beginning of the war with Ukraine - this speaks of the state of affairs in the space industry much more clearly than Rogozhin's broad kind face.

    And someone set such a task? The UR-100N UTTH missiles were removed from service. There were enough conversion rates at that time. But if it is possible to use decommissioned ICBMs stored in arsenals and not to cut them up, but to use them to launch satellites, then why not?
    1. Mikle2000
      Mikle2000 April 29 2021 21: 30
      Why not.
      Because we do not know how.
  5. Old26
    Old26 April 29 2021 21: 34
    Quote: Mikle2000
    Why not.
    Because we do not know how.

    What are we not able to do? Create your own control systems?
    1. Mikle2000
      Mikle2000 5 May 2021 21: 28
      Yes, we do not know how to create our own control systems. Anyway, quickly. Because we want Rokot (is it in the plans? - so we want it), but we can do it only by 2022 (this is even if the deadline does not go to the right), although it was already clear in 2014 that the Ukrainians left the project. 8 years for minor revisions - I call this the word we are not able to.
  6. Nikolaevich I
    Nikolaevich I April 30 2021 00: 23
    By now, there is a fashion for satellites "micro and nano" ... More or less "normal" carrier can put dozens of "nanosatellites" into space at once, which often "retired soldiers" cannot afford! If it is necessary to withdraw the oversized cargo, the same "normal" launch vehicles are used ... Who will spoil the air and litter the air in the extra-atmospheric environment .... a specialized, even "heavy", "normal" launch vehicle, launched once and with dozens nanosatellites "or ten" retirees ", each with a couple of" products "?
  7. lopuhan2006
    lopuhan2006 April 30 2021 01: 48
    Blah, blah, blah ..... Will be, tomorrow, then and so on. The king of trampolines has not been heard lately. Maybe he helps the Chinese? And then, something everyone flies except us. On Khrunichev, I suppose everything is modern and in white tiles, yes, drafts.
    1. A1845
      A1845 April 30 2021 09: 34
      Quote: lopuhan2006
      yes zp dray

      only not from engineers, but from effective optimizers.