Russia plans to resume launches of RS-20 Voevoda intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) under the Dnepr program, which is designed to combine the disposal of ICBMs and the placement of civilian payloads into orbit, the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax-AVN on July 23.
"After the Ukrainian participants in the Dnepr program withdrew from the Kosmotras consortium, the provider of launch services has every opportunity to implement the declared launch manifest. To resume the launches, it will be necessary to settle some procedural issues related to the cancellation of the previous decision on suspending the program," he said.
"Such plans are being worked on now," he said.
Kosmotras reported that five Dnepr launches are scheduled for 2016-2017. The U.S. company Iridium also planned one launch in its interests.
"Instead of Ukrainian enterprises, the Makeyev state rocket center based in Miass, in the Chelyabinsk region, is taking on the Dnepr program's technical support," a Kosmotras source told Interfax.
"The Dnepr program has prospects, since it is necessary to dispose of about 10 RS-20B and up to 60 RS-20V ICBMs," he said.
Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) Commander Col. Gen. Sergei Karakayev had earlier told Interfax-AVN that the RVSN had stopped launches under the Dnepr program. "Flight tests under the Dnepr program have been discontinued," the commander said in commenting on Iridium's plans to commission a Dnepr launch for this October to put its two second-generation telecommunications satellites into orbit.
Iridium chief Matt Desch said earlier that the Dnepr launch vehicle with the two satellites on board could lift off in October 2015.
The first launch would deliver two satellites atop the Dnepr vehicle to be launched from Russia. This will be followed by a launch of seven Falcon 9 vehicles four months later. Iridium is so planning to have the target number of its second-generation satellites in orbit by the end of 2017.
Iridium currently has 66 first-generation satellites in operation.
A source in the Russian space industry said, "If the RVSN carries out this launch, they would really help the Pentagon."
"As a matter of fact, apart from the communications payload, which, by the way, would be used in the interests of American security agencies, Iridium's second-generation satellites carry payloads belonging to the U.S. early warning system," he said.
As concerns Iridium, it is "interested in a Russian launch to be able to utilize the frequency range allotted to the company, or otherwise it could lose it," he said.
Earlier this year, Kosmotras launched a Dnepr vehicle that delivered a South Korean remote sensing satellite into space.
Kosmotras, which earlier had international status, converts RS-20 ICBMs designed by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine) into Dnepr launch vehicles. These are launched by silo-based systems at the Baikonur space center and at the launch site of an RVSN unit stationed in Yasny, in the Orenburg region, where analogous ICBMs remain on duty.
There have been 20 successful Dnepr space launches since 1999.
The Dnepr is a three-stage liquid-fuel rocket, whose first and second stages are standard stages of the RS-20. The rocket's launch weight is 210 tonnes.
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