CryoSat's 8 October flight atop its Rockot launcher will beof historical significance in more ways than one. In a strikingjuxtaposition of new and old, the ESA ice satellite mated to anewly-finished Breeze-KM upper stage will be hauled most of the way toorbit by a vintage SS-19 two-stage rocket, first assembled two decadesago to serve as a weapon of nuclear war.
ESA satellites haveflown from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome before (as well as theRussian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan) but this will bethe first time one will be launched by Rockot – a design that consistsof a Russian SS-19 two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)plus a Breeze-KM third stage to place the payload in its final orbit.
Codenamed'Stiletto' by NATO, around 300 SS-19s were manufactured between the mid1970s and 80s to serve as a major part of the old Soviet Union'snuclear arsenal. The liquid-fuelled ICBMs were deployed in locationsacross Russia and the Ukraine until the START arms control treatiesmade them redundant. It was in the early 1990s that a new use for themwas found.
Today, Eurockot Launch Services is the Bremen–based company thatmarkets and performs commercial Rockot services. The firm is a jointventure between EADS Space and Russia's Khrunichev rocket-makers andhas been in existence for a decade.
"Disarmament talks and treaties between the West and the old SovietUnion reduced the strategic arms stock," explains Peter Freeborn ofEurockot. "Then came the bright idea, why not, instead of wrecking orchopping up these ICBMs, why not use at least part of them for peacefulreasons – namely for launching satellites into low-Earth orbit?
"Toprove the concept that the SS-19 would be a good basic vehicle forlaunching satellites a trio of test flights took place in the early1990s, although these used an earlier upper stage design, the Breeze-K.Then the Russians approached German industry and what was then DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA for short – now part of EADS) formed a jointventure with Khrunichev to sell launch services." At the time there wasa lot of market interest in commercial low-Earth orbit satelliteconstellations, and Khrunichev in 1998-9 designed the wider-diameterBreeze-KM upper stage to satisfy the requirements of Iridium LLC, thecorporation that established a 66-satellite constellation for worldwidetelephone services.
Eurockot's first commercial launch took placein May 2000; CryoSat will be the sixth such launch, while the RussianFederal government also recently flew its own Earth Observationsatellite on a Rockot in August this year.
"A total of 157 SS-19shave flown to date, with no failures in the last 20 years," Freebornadds. "Khrunichev have ten SS-19s in storage at their Moscow plant atany one time, drained of fuel and taken care of to prevent anydegradation. That leaves around 150 still to be flown – we would haveto be pretty successful to run out in the near future, with ourbusiness plan being to launch up to two per year. We have assurancesfrom the Russian government that the Rockots will be good to fly untilat least 2015, and envisage that could be prolonged to 2020 or later."
Meanwhilenew Breeze-KM upper stages are built at Khrunichev's same plant, andshipped the 800 kilometres up to Plesetsk separately from the SS-19 andthe satellite payload. The satellite is mated to the Breeze-KM at apurpose-built integration facility established by Eurockot at theCosmodrome, then the combined satellite and upper stage is affixed toits waiting SS-19.
"The actual SS-19 hardware remains untouched,"Freeborn explains. "It was originally designed to launch from a buriedlaunch container silo and this is still the case, except the launchcontainer is now above the ground and has the Breeze-KM on top.
"Inaddition because every satellite is different, the one-off sensor andintegration devices needed to connect it with the Rockot is provided byKhrunichev, on the basis that the company who makes the launcher alsomake the interface for the satellite."
Rather than simply sellingrockets the 15-strong "multi-cultural, multi-lingual" Eurockot teamoffer the entire frame of services needed in order for its globalcustomer base to deliver payloads into space. For the actual launchitself Eurorockot subcontracts to Khrunichev who in turn subcontractsto the Russian Space Forces – all launches in the country beingperformed by military personnel.
ESA's new concept of EarthExplorer missions involves smaller spacecraft designed to addressspecific needs of the scientific community – in the instance of CryoSatto measure thickness trends in marine ice cover and land ice sheets.CryoSat weighs in around 700 kg, so Eurockot, with its launcher able todeploy payloads of up to 1950 kg in mass into low-Earth orbit,successfully bid for the flight contract.
After CryoSat, Eurockotwill also be launching ESA's follow-up Earth Explorer missions GOCE in2006 and SMOS in 2007, with ESA's technology demonstrator Proba-2probably flying in 2008. The company is also competing for ESA launchcontracts into the next decade, with additional launches set forJapanese and Korean customers.
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