[FPSPACE] Reuters: Russia offers old nukes to launch new satellites
Tue, 31 Oct 2000 11:32:21 EST
Russia offers old nukes to launch new satellites
By Martin Nesirky
09:19 10-31-00 EST
MOSCOW, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Russia's nuclear missile chief seized the
marketing moment on Tuesday by announcing -- on the day the first
International Space Station crew blasted off -- that he can offer hundreds of
rockets to launch satellites.
There is nothing new in using the odd decommissioned missile to lift civilian
or military satellites into orbit, but General Vladimir Yakovlev made clear
he planned a pile-them-high, sell-them-cheap campaign to raise cash for the
"The needs of many countries for launching satellites are constantly
growing," he said in a statement distributed by the Strategic Rocket Forces
press service. "Forecasts show some 1,500 satellites need to be placed in low
orbit alone by 2010."
Two Russians and an American blasted off from Baikonur cosmodrome in
Kazakhstan on Tuesday and headed for the International Space Station to
prepare a potential springboard for interplanetary travel.
"We are going to be in space with people circling the earth forever," NASA
head Daniel Goldin told reporters after the launch. "Instead of pointing
missiles at each other or competing with each other, we learn from each
It was a point evidently not lost on Yakovlev, who said about 250 Russian
intercontinental ballistic missiles were scheduled to be removed from service
by 2009, in part because of U.S.-Russian disarmament accords. The Russian
rockets would be available for conversion to take commercial payloads.
"The proceeds from fully using all the ICBMs could reach up to 20 billion
roubles," he said.
MISSILES READY AND WAITING
That is about $700 million, or a 10th of the entire defence budget for next
year, a sum the armed forces could certainly use. Yakovlev said the money
could help improve living conditions for those in the military.
A spokesman at the Strategic Rocket Forces noted five satellites including
firsts for Malaysia and Saudi Arabia had been launched in September atop a
converted SS-18, known as Satan in Western military circles.
"Now other missiles will become available," he told Reuters. "They are being
removed from combat readiness and rather than scrapping them, cutting them
up, they will be used as boosters."
He said the missiles likely to be removed from service included the RS-18,
codenamed Stiletto in the West.
Russia cannot afford to maintain the huge nuclear arsenal it inherited from
the Soviet Union. There is an intense debate going on in the military and the
Kremlin about how to reshape Russia's defences to match its meagre finances.
The Kremlin's influential Security Council is expected to meet some time in
November to discuss military reform.
The Strategic Rocket Forces, which look after Russia's land-based nuclear
deterrent, are set to come under air force control. By speaking now, Yakovlev
has made a strong pitch not just at would-be satellite customers but also at
the Kremlin that his outfit can be useful even in decline.
"It is six times cheaper than a conventional purpose-built lanuch rocket. For
a specific launch you need to prepare a rocket," said the missile spokesman.
"These are ready and waiting."