A few days ago, the domestic defense industry proposed another project to modernize existing intercontinental ballistic missiles and turn them into launch vehicles for launching spacecraft. The layout of the modified complex has already been shown to the leadership of the military department. In the foreseeable future, the original proposal may reach the practical implementation and use of available missiles in a new capacity.
According to domestic media, during the recent international military-technical forum "Army-2016", the Moscow Institute of Thermal Engineering (MIT), which is one of the main domestic developers of strategic missile weapons, demonstrated materials on new project. The new development of MIT implies some change in the RT-2PM Topol rocket complex, after which it can solve the problems of launching spacecraft into low-earth orbit. It is argued that such a proposal could have significant economic and practical impact.
Launcher complex "Start". Photo Ruscosmos.narod.ru
The essence of the proposed project is that missiles removed from duty and decommissioned by strategic missile forces should not be sent for disposal. Instead, the 15Ж58 products should be subjected to some changes, with the help of which they can receive a new "specialty". In the coming years, such use of old missiles may be of great interest to potential customers, as well as to the Russian armed forces. The fact is that over the next few years, the Strategic Missile Forces plan to completely abandon the Topol complexes due to the expiration of the missiles' service life. The proposal of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Engineering, in turn, will make it possible to get some benefit from the decommissioned missiles, as well as save on their disposal.
Recall that the RT-2PM Topol mobile ground-based strategic missile system was adopted in 1988. Serial assembly of equipment and missiles of this complex lasted from 1984 to 1994. At the beginning of the 2000s, tests of the improved RT-2PM2 Topol-M complex were completed. He soon entered service in mobile and mine versions. The parallel operation of the two systems continues to this day, however, the great age of the older systems imposes certain restrictions. Moreover, the lack of production and the expiration of the service life leads to the fact that over the next few years the Strategic Missile Forces will be forced to completely abandon the Topol, replacing them with newer systems.
Such plans of the military department make the issue of disposal of the missiles remaining in the troops urgent. In addition, on June 20 of this year, a government decree was issued establishing a new procedure for the disposal of weapons and military equipment. According to the decree, the troops and industry should look for the most efficient ways to dispose of existing products, and simple destruction should be considered as an exceptional measure in case there are no alternatives. In the light of such orders from the country's leadership, the use of decommissioned missiles in a new role can be a profitable and convenient solution to the existing problem.
Details of the project to modernize the Topol complex, which turns its rocket into a carrier for spacecraft, are still unknown. The press only mentions that the Minister of Defense was shown a mobile launcher adapted for use in a new role. Other details, for objective reasons, have not yet been reported. Thus, the technical appearance of the new project remains unknown, and one can only make certain assumptions.
It should be noted that it is not the first time that the RT-2PM missile system has received the opportunity to become a technique intended not for strategic deterrence, but for launching spacecraft. The possibility of creating a launch vehicle based on the 15Zh58 product has been considered since the end of the eighties, and over time has led to the creation of a full-fledged project. In the early nineties, MIT presented the Start launch vehicle, which was a reworked version of the Topol missile system. The project proposed the use of ready-made components, which, however, were used in a different composition and in a different quantity.
The "Start" project implied the use of ready-made stages of the Topol missile complex, but now it was proposed to build missiles with an increased number of stages, which made it possible to increase the main characteristics to the required level. Within the framework of one program, three versions of launch vehicles were developed: "Start", "Start-1" and "Start-1.2", which differed in various design features, primarily the number of stages and parameters of the launch of the payload. All versions of the launch vehicle have been tested in practice, however, only the Start-1 complex has reached relatively widespread use.
Project "Start" in the first version meant the assembly of a five-stage rocket from units based on elements of the Topol missile complex. The increase in the number of stages was achieved by equipping the rocket with several stages of the same type. The five-stage rocket retained the diameter of the base product at 1.8 m, but differed in a longer length - 28.8 m. The launch weight increased to 60 tons. The rocket parameters made it possible to put a load weighing 570 kg into low-earth orbit.
The launch vehicle "Start-1" had four stages, and the so-called. finishing block, however, was built on the same principle as the basic "Start". At the same time, the length of the product was reduced to 22.7 m, and the diameter to 1.6 m with a launch mass of 47 tons. The payload during launching into low-earth orbit was 531 kg. On the basis of "Start-1", the product "Start-1.2" was created, which differed in some structural elements. The characteristics have hardly changed. An important feature of the Start-1 and Start-1.2 missiles was the ability to launch from a mobile launcher of the Topol complex, which to a certain extent simplified the prelaunch preparation and operation of the systems as a whole.
The first test launch of the Start family rocket took place on March 25, 1993. The product "Start-1" with a weight simulator of the payload has successfully completed the flight program. On March 28, 1995, the second launch took place, in which the Start rocket was used with two satellites and a dimensional and weight model on board. The total payload mass was 269 kg. Due to the abnormal operation of some systems, the rocket and satellites were destroyed during the separation of the fifth stage. On March 4, 1997, the Start-1.2 launch vehicle took off for the first time, successfully sending a military satellite weighing 87 kg into orbit.
From 1993 to April 25, 2006, seven launches of the Start family missiles were carried out. Five products "Start-1" were used, as well as one each "Start" and "Start-1.2". All launches, with the exception of the second one, ended in successful injecting the load into orbit. Nevertheless, despite certain successes, ten years ago the operation of the Start complexes was discontinued. One of the main reasons for this was the insufficient indicators of the carrying capacity of the missiles: a carrier with a payload of no more than several hundred kilograms was not of interest to most customers. In addition, the Start complex had to face competitors in the form of other launch vehicles based on serial ballistic missiles.
Rocket "Start-1". Photo Militaryrussia.ru
There is reason to believe that in the foreseeable future light carriers based on Topol missiles or other similar products may again enter the market and receive a noticeable number of orders. In recent years, some progress has been observed in the creation of spacecraft, the result of which, among other things, the emergence of light and ultralight satellites, the mass of which can be only a few kilograms. Thus, the new version of the carrier rocket based on 15Ж58 may be of interest to various scientific or educational organizations that have the desire and ability to send their own microsatellite into orbit.
An important feature of the so-called. conversion launch vehicles is a relatively low launch cost. In this case, a company that provides services for the launching of spacecraft does not need to build a launch vehicle from scratch, since the finished product is taken as the basis for it. All that is required is the adaptation of the finished structure to new tasks, but these works in any case turn out to be much cheaper than the full-fledged construction of the carrier. Thus, potential customers get the opportunity to obtain significant savings. In the case of customers wishing to launch a small-sized light vehicle, it is possible to simultaneously launch a large number of satellites into orbit, which additionally reduces the cost of carrier services for each individual customer.
Another advantage of a promising launch vehicle based on the Topol complex may be the characteristic features of a mobile launcher. Unlike other launch systems, a self-propelled launcher does not need a lengthy prelaunch preparation, being able to perform all the necessary procedures in the shortest possible time and only by calculation. In the context of space launches, this can lead to a significant reduction in the preparation time for launching spacecraft into orbit in comparison with other launch vehicles.
As you can see, the proposed concept of converting intercontinental ballistic missiles into a means of launching a payload into orbit has a lot of advantages that allow it to count on widespread use. Moreover, some of these systems are already being actively exploited. Thus, the future of the new MIT project can be assessed with a certain optimism. However, at the moment it exists only in the form of preliminary studies and is not yet ready for real operation. It will take some time to complete all the required work, after which the first carriers of a new type based on Topol rockets will be able to send one or another payload into orbit.
The main prerequisite for the emergence of a new project was the plans of the military department concerning the gradual decommissioning of the Topol complexes in connection with the development of a resource and the expiration of the storage periods of missiles. According to current plans, the last RT-2PM complexes will be decommissioned in 2021. Thus, over the next few years, the industry and the Ministry of Defense will have to determine the real prospects for the new proposal of the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering, as well as form appropriate plans for the work and the commissioning of the carrier. This means that new messages about the project may appear in the very near future, and the first launch of the launch vehicle can be expected before the end of this decade.