By the end of the Cold War in 1991, the UR-100NU (15A35) missile had been the most numerous carrier of nuclear warheads in the Soviet arsenal. Capable of carrying up to six warheads, the UR-100NU started flying in 1977, and some 360 missiles, known in the West as SS-19, had been manufactured by the Khrunichev plant in Moscow, by the time their production stopped around 1991.
Since mid-1980s, a launch vehicle based on the UR-100NU missile was apparently adopted to carry the latest-generation of the anti-satellite system called Naryad. It could be deployed in the same silos in Baikonur, which were previously used for launches of UR-100 ballistic missiles.
With the end of the Cold War, the Khrunichev enterprise in Moscow, which used to manufacture the UR-100-type missiles, bought back some of them from the Russian Ministry of Defense. As several other ICBMs in the old nuclear stockpile, the UR-100N was considered for conversion into a commercial space launcher. Renamed "Rockot" (Rumble) and equipped with the Briz-K or Briz-KM upper stage, the UR-100N would be able to deliver around 1,800 kilograms into a 200-kilometer orbit with the inclination 63 degrees toward the Equator, after launch from Plesetsk.
To market Rockot internationally, during 1994 and 1995 Khrunichev co-created a joint venture, Eurockot, with DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, which succeeded in booking several Western payloads for the booster. On Dec. 16, 1992, and July 1, 1995, the Russian government signed official documents which sanctioned the development of the Rockot booster.
Rockot test launches from Baikonur
To test the Naryad anti-satellite system and demonstrate capabilities of the UR-100 missile converted into a space launcher, the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, RVSN, conducted two suborbital and one orbital launch of the rocket from silo facilities on the left flank of Baikonur:
1990 November 20: Rockot flies a sub-orbital mission from a silo complex at Site 131 on the left flank of Baikonur Cosmodrome.
1991 December 20: Rockot flies a sub-orbital mission from a silo complex at Site 175/1 in Baikonur.
1994 December 26: Rockot delivers the Radio-ROSTO satellite and, possibly the Naryad anti-satellite, after the launch from a silo complex at Site 175/1 in Baikonur.
Rockot operations from Plesetsk
Although Rockot's first test missions originated from test silos in Baikonur, initial commercial operations with the booster were moved to Russia's northern cosmodrome in Plesetsk. Specifically for this purpose, Site 133 in Plesetsk was modified to accomodate the Rockot. The pad was originally built for the Cosmos-3 booster.
The first launch of the Rockot booster with the Briz K upper stage and a RVSN-40 experimental satellite from its new pad in Plesetsk was expected as early as September 1999, however, financial and technical problems delayed the inaguration of the pad until end of 1999. The first Rockot's launch from Plesetsk was expected to validate the new rocket and its renovated launch complex for future commercial operations.
On December 22, 1999, during integrated tests of the Rockot booster on the launch pad in Plesetsk, a control system error inadvertently turned on power that set off explosive bolts, jettisoning the payload fairing on top of the rocket. Khrunichev officials assured that nobody was hurt in the incident, however, the rocket and the Briz-K upper stage had to be removed from the pad for damage assessment. The consequent investigation revealed that an improperly configured cable caused the mishap.
The payload fairing, whose elements fell into the launch tower during the incident, was damaged beyond repair and had to be replaced. Following the incident, Eurockot made a decision to use entirely new booster for the first demonstrational flight from Plesetsk and use modified Briz-KM upper stage instead of the original Briz-K. The concern about the reliability of the launcher prompted this switch, according to Eurockot.
A larger payload fairing manufactured for the Angara launcher and compatible with Briz KM was borrowed for Rockot's test launch. The original launcher, which was involved in the accident, has been used for tests on the launch pad.
Eurockot initially postponed a qualification flight until the end of March. Later, the additional checks of the booster pushed the launch date toward the end of April.
Ultimately, the mission was set for mid-May to give the launch personnel in Plesetsk the time for May Day holiday, celebrated in Russia.
Despite heavy snow avalanching Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 16, 2000, the first launch of the Rockot booster took place at 11:27 p.m. Moscow Time, (08:28 UTC) as scheduled. The Rockot booster delivered two dummy satellites into the low Earth orbit.
By the time the Rockot booster completed its successful demonstrational launch from Plesetsk in May 2000, Eurockot identified several potential customers for its comercial launches:
Rockot in Svobodny
Khrunichev also considered launching Rockot booster from a former missile base turned cosmodrome in Svobodny in the Russian Far East and even building a sea-based launch platform. These plans were apparently put off in favor of Plesetsk. Eurockot still planned to refurbish test silos in Baikonur for future commercial launches.
2002 June 20:The Rockot booster launched a long-delayed pair of Iridium communications satellites from Plesetsk, Russian Space Forces said.
A three-stage Rockot booster blasted off from Launch Complex No. 133 at 13:34 Moscow Time (5:34 a.m. EST).
The launch of the satellites was originally expected as early as the first half of 2000, however the mission was continously delayed by Iridium's financial problems. Technical problems with the payload also delayed the launch for some 24 hours from June 19.
2003 June 30: A converted Russian ballistic missiles successfully delivered eight commercial payloads and a mockup of the Russian satellite into orbit, after launch from northern cosmodrome in Plesetsk.
The Rockot booster blasted off at 18:15 Moscow Time (1515 GMT) on June 30, 2003. According to Eurockot, a Russian-German joint venture marketing the vehicle, it successfully deployed the Czech republic's MIMOSA spacecraft into an elliptical orbit of 820 x 320 km and the Canadian Space Agency's MOST spacecraft, together with a host of nano-satellites, including the Japanese Cubesat and CUTE-1, the Canadian Can X-1, the Danish AAU Cubesat and DTUsat, the US Quakesat, into a sun-synchronous orbit of 820 km.
The ninth payload of this mission, a mass frequency simulator of the Russian Monitor-E satellite, intentionally remained on Briz upper stage and was expected to burn up during deorbiting.
was the 7th mission of the Rockot-Briz booster and it was originally
expected in October 2002. The next Rockot launch is scheduled for October
2003 Oct. 30: A converted Russian ballistic missiles successfully delivered a 840-kilogram Japanese satellite into sun-synchronous orbit, after launch from northern cosmodrome in Plesetsk.
After a 24-hour delay caused by high winds, the Rockot booster blasted off at 13:43 UTC on October 30, 2003, carrying SERVIS-1, or Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System satellite.
The Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer (USEF) of Tokyo, Japan, intended to use the spacecraft to develop technologies for the utilization of commercial off-the-shelf components in space conditions. USEF has the responsibility to promote the SERVIS project including the development of satellite system under the auspices of Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
One hour 36 minutes after the launch, the spacecraft was scheduled to separate from Briz KM upper stage in its intended circular orbit with the altitude of 1,000 kilometers.
Technical problems had delayed the mission from October 8, 2003.
Rockot orbits new Russian remote-sensing platform
2005 Aug. 26: A converted ballistic missile, successfully delivered a new type of light-weight remote sensing satellite.
The Rockot booster with Briz-KM (No. 72507) upper stage blasted off from Launch Pad No. 3 of Site 133 in Russia's Northern Cosmodrome in Plesetsk on Aug. 26, 2005, at 22:34:28 Moscow Time, carrying the Monitor-E remote-sensing satellite. Some 5,960 seconds after the launch and two burns of the Briz upper stage, the payload successfully reached its sun-synchronous circular orbit 540 kilometers above the Earth surface and with the inclination 97.5 degrees toward the Equator.
According to Khrunichev enterprise, the payload developer, the 750-kilogram experimental satellite successfully transmitted first data to the company's ground control station by August 30, 2005.
The mission was previously planned for July 30, 2005 and August 18, 2005.
2005 Oct. 8: The European CryoSat spacecraft was lost as a result of the failure of the Rockot booster. The launch vehicle blasted off from Plesetsk as scheduled at 15:02:14 UTC.
According to Eurockot, around 19:00 UTC, or four hours after the launch, European space officials said that upon "loss of visibility" following the burn of the first stage, there was no contact with the spacecraft or its upper stage. At 16:32, ESA's tracking station in Redu, Belgium, was expected to acquire a signal from the CryoSat, however no contact was established. Four minutes later, (at 16:36 UTC) spacecraft was scheduled to separate from the upper stage, while in contact with ESA's facility in Kiruna, Sweden, which also was not confirmed.
In the meantime, around 19:00 UTC (23:00 Moscow Time), Jury Bakhvalov, First Deputy Director General of the Khrunichev Space Center on behalf of the Russian State Commission officially confirmed that the launch of the CryoSat ended in a failure due to an anomaly in the launch sequence.
Preliminary analysis of the telemetry data indicated that the first stage performed nominally. The second stage performed nominally until main engine cutoff was to occur. Due to a missing command from the onboard flight control system the main engine continued to operate until depletion of the remaining fuel. As a result, the separation of the second stage from the upper stage did not occur.
The combined stack of the two stages and the CryoSat satellite fell into the nominal impact area north of Greenland, not far from the North Pole.
Russian authorities established a commission to investigate the failure.
The 750-kilogram CryoSat science spacecraft built by Astrium for the European Space Agency and was expected to study ocean ice from a 717-kilometer polar orbit.
This mission was previously delayed from June and Fall 2004, end of March and September 2005. Delivery of the payload to the launch site was scheduled for Aug. 10, 2005.
CryoSat launch sequence:
October 27, 2005, European Space Agency released a statement saying
that the Russian Failure Investigation State Commission led by the
Space Forces Deputy Commander Oleg Gromov announced the clearance of
the launch vehicle for future use including launches for the Russian
Ministry of Defense.
A detailed briefing of the findings of the State Commission to Eurorockot and its customer ESA was expected to take place on 3 November 2005. A Eurorockot Failure Review Board would review the conclusions of the State Commission and release its findings, ESA said.
Initial reports quoted the commission as blaming Kharkov-based NPO Khartron, the developer of avionics for the Briz-KM booster, however the company's official said that their hardware worked flawlessly. The problem was later narrowed to the flight control software.
Rockot returns to flight
2006 July 28: The Rockot booster, converted from the UR-100NU ballistic missile, successfully returned to flight more than nine months after its failure, and, ironically, just two days, after another ICBM-based launch vehicle, Dnepr, crashed downrange from Baikonur.
A Rockot booster, carrying the KOMPSAT-2 remote-sensing satellite, lifted off from Russia northern cosmodrome in Plesetsk at 11:05:41 Moscow Time (07:05 UTC). The vehicle headed into a sun-synchronous orbit with the altitude 685 kilometers and the inclination 98.13 degrees.
A 798-kilogram KOrean MultiPurposeSATellite, or KOMPSAT-2, spacecraft built by the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) of Taejon was designed to provide monitoring and mapping services for the Republic of Korea's Geographic Information System (GIS) by employing a high-resolution multi spectral camera.
The payload would be able to provide black and white images with the one-meter resolution and multispectral images with the four-meter resolution.
When under payload fiaring, the spacecraft has the height of 2.6 meters and the diameter of 2 meters. With its solar panels and X-band antenna deployed, the vehicle would measure 2.8 by 6.9 meters. The lifetime of the spacecraft is expected to be three years.
KARI served as the prime developer and system integrator in the project. EADS Astrium GmbH of Friedrichshafen, Germany supplied components and support services.
The mission was previously scheduled as yearly as 2004, and it was later delayed to August 2005, Dec. 27, 2005 and to the second quarter of 2006.
Rockot delivers a cluster of satellites
2008 May 23: A converted ballistic missile delivered a cluster of satellites, after a successful launch from Russia's northern cosmodrome. The Rockot booster lifted off from Plesetsk on May 23, 2008, at 19:20:09. The vehicle carried a trio of Strela-3/Rodnik satellites along with the Yubileiny experimental spacecraft.
The separation of three Strela satellites from Briz-KM upper stage was scheduled for 21:04:18 Moscow Time on May 23, 2008. The separation of the Yubileiny spacecraft was scheduled for 21:05:08. The maneuver of deorbiting of the Briz-KM upper stage was scheduled between 21:15:15 and 21:16:55 Moscow Time.
The launch was previously expected at the end of 2007 and on Feb. 28, 2008.
2009 March 17: A long-delayed European mission to study Earth's gravity field took off from Russia's northern cosmodrome.
The Rockot booster converted from the UR-100NU ICBM, blasted off from Site 133 in Plesetsk on March 17, 2009, at 17:21 Moscow Decree Time (14:21 GMT), carrying the GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite for the European Space Agency, ESA. The launch vehicle's Briz-KM upper stage was scheduled to insert the satellite into a near-circular Sun-synchronous orbit, following two engine burns. Around 18:55 Moscow Time, European Space Agency announced that its ground control station had acquired a signal from the satellite.
According to ESA, GOCE was to map Earth’s gravity field with unprecedented accuracy, providing insight into ocean circulation, sea-level change, climate change, volcanism and earthquakes. It became the first in ESA's Earth Explorers series of satellites, designed to study our planet and its environment aimed to improve scientific knowledge and understanding of Earth-system processes and their evolution, in order to enable the humanity to address the challenges of global climate change, the agency said.
The slender, five-metre long satellite was designed to orbit at a very low altitude because the gravitational variations are stronger closer to Earth. As a result, the spacecraft featured exotic, aerodynamically contious design with octagonal-shape and cross-sectional area of only one square meter aimed to limit the drag and torque of upper atmosphere on its movement. Two winglets provided additional aerodynamic stability. To measure gravity, there can be no disturbances from moving parts so the entire spacecraft was actually one extremely sensitive measuring device. It would be the first space mission to employ ‘gradiometry’ – the measurement of gravitational differences between an ensemble of test masses inside the satellite, ESA said.
The mission was originally scheduled for as early as May 15, 2008, and it was later postponed to July-August 2008. Due to a problem with the guidance and navigation system in the Briz-KM upper stage discovered on Sept. 7, 2008, the launch was rescheduled again from Sept. 10 to Oct. 5, 2008. It was delayed again to Oct. 8 and Oct. 27, 2008. The spacecraft remained in the storage until about three weeks before the launch attempt on March 16, 2009. It was finally moved to the launch pad on March 11, 2009.
A last-minute glitch scrubbed the first launch attempt on March 16, 2009, at 17:21:17 Moscow Time. Exact reasons for the delay have not been immediately announced. The countdown continued until seven seconds before the liftoff, however a service tower, which was suppose to roll away from the pad 10 minutes before launch, did not move. Some half an hour after the aborted launch attempt, a report came about a 24-hour delay. Around 18:00 Moscow Time on March 16, a representative of Eurockot, which markets the booster commercially, said that one of the doors of the service tower failed to open, thus preventing the retraction of the tower and the launch.
Rockot launches milsats
2009 July 6: Russia launched a trio of military satellites from its northern cosmodrome. The Rockot booster lifted off on July 6, 2009, at 05:26 Moscow Time, carrying three military satellites, the official Russian media said. The payloads, identified as Kosmos-2451, -2452 and 2453 were released into their operational orbit at 07:01 Moscow Time. ISS Reshetnev later reported that it was responsible for the development and manufacturing of the triple payload in the mission and that the satellites were designed for military communications.
2009 Nov. 2: Russian space forces delivered two satellites for the European space agency, ESA. A Rockot booster lifted off from Plesetsk on Nov. 2, 2009 at 01:05 GMT. According to ESA, some 70 minutes after launch, SMOS successfully separated from the Rockot’s Briz-KM upper stage. Shortly after, the satellite’s initial telemetry was acquired by the Hartebeesthoek ground station, near Johannesburg, South Africa. The upper stage then performed additional maneuvers to arrive at a slightly lower orbit and Proba-2 was released too, some three hours into flight.
Both satellites entered their respective sun-synchronous orbits, at an altitude of some 760 km in the case of SMOS and 725 km in that of Proba-2, ESA said. The Proteus mission control center operated by the Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in Toulouse, France, was in control of SMOS on behalf of ESA, while the Proba control center, at ESA’s tracking station in Redu, Belgium, took over Proba-2.
The second satellite in ESA’s Earth Explorer series – the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission – and the second demonstration satellite under ESA’s Project for Onboard Autonomy (Proba-2) .
SMOS will play a key role in the monitoring of climate change on a global scale. It is the first ever satellite designed both to map sea surface salinity and to monitor soil moisture on a global scale. It features a unique interferometric radiometer that will enable passive surveying of the water cycle between oceans, the atmosphere and land.
Traveling piggyback on the launch of SMOS, Proba-2 is a follow-on to the highly successful Proba-1 satellite launched in 2001. It was designed to demonstrate 17 advanced satellite technologies – such as miniaturized sensors for ESA's future space probes and a highly sophisticated CCD camera with a wide angle view of about 120º – while carrying a set of four science instruments to observe the Sun and study the plasma environment in orbit.
The mission originally expected as early as September 2007, was later delayed to October 2007, the first quarter, May and October 2008, April and Sept. 9, 2009.
2010 June 2: Russian space forces successfully launched an experimental remote-sensing satellite for a Tokyo-based organization Wednesday. The Rockot booster with the Breeze KM upper stage lifted off from Russia's northern cosmodrome in Plesetsk on June 2, 2010, at 05:59:15 Moscow Time. It carried a 740-kilogram Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System, SERVIS-2, satellite for the Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer, USEF, of Tokyo, Japan, into a 1,200-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit with the inclination 100.42 degrees toward the Equator.
The contract for the launch was announced on Feb. 15, 2007 with the expected launch in 2009. The spacecraft was designed and built by USEF under a contract from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The purpose of SERVIS-2 is the verification of commercial off - the - shelf (COTS) parts and technologies in the severe space environment, thus establishing evaluation and equipment design guidelines to use COTS in space.
2011 Feb. 1: A Rockot booster carrying the Geo-IK-2 No. 11 (Musson-2) satellite lifted off from Russia's northern cosmodrome in Plesetsk on February 1, 2011 at 17:00 Moscow Time. According to the official Russian sources, the separation of the Geo-IK-2 satellite from the Briz-KM upper stage was scheduled to take place at 18:35 Moscow Time within range of ground control stations.
2012 July 28: Almost a year and a half after a launch failure, Russia's Rockot booster returned to flight Saturday successfully delivering four satellites.
According to official reports, it carried a pair of Gonets-M communications satellites (No. 13 and No. 14) for the Gonets-D1M multifunction network, MSPSS, and a MiR (Yubileiny-2) remote-sensing spacecraft. A classified military satellite was also announced to be onboard. According to Russian sources, it belonged to the Strela-3 communications network (17F13) and was similar to civilian Gonets satellites.
Russian space agency, Roskosmos, confirmed that both Gonets payloads and MiR successfully reached the orbit, separating from their upper stage at 07:19 Moscow Time on July 28 (planned separation time for MiR was reported to be 07:20:33). For Gonets the operational orbit has an altitude of 1,500 kilometers and an inclination 82.5 degrees toward the Equator. Industry sources confirmed that the first communication session between ground control and MiR (Yubileiny-2) satellite had been conducted successfully.
The launch was preliminary planned in December 2011, in March 2012, but it had to be postponed to May 26, June 30, then to July 13 and to July 28. The last two-week delay was caused primarily by issues with avionics onboard Rockot's Briz-KM upper stage. Civilian payload were delivered to Plesetsk on May 28 and the fueling of the launch vehicle was conducted on July 26.
Briz-KM misbehaves following successful Rodnik launch
2013 Jan. 15: Russia opened the record of space missions in 2013 with a launch of a converted ballistic missile carrying a trio of military satellites.
A Rockot booster equipped with a Briz-KM upper stage lifted off from Pad No. 3 at Site 133 in Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Jan 15, 2013, at 20:24:59 Moscow Time (11:25 EST). The vehicle was carrying a trio of military communications satellites for a constellation believed to be designated Rodnik-S. The spacecraft is the latest incarnation of the Strela series, one of the oldest military satellite families tracing its roots to the 1960s. Rodnik also closely resembles its civilian version - Gonets-M.
According to Aleksei Zolotukhin, a representative of Russia's Air and Space Defense Forces, VKO, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency, ground facilities of Titov Chief Testing Center started tracking the Rockot vehicle at 20:28 Moscow Time. The satellites were expected to reach their operational orbit at 22:09 Moscow Time (13:09 EST), Zolotukhin said. The Interfax news agency reported that the Briz-KM upper stage with its payloads successfully reached an initial parking orbit. A second firing of the engine onboard Briz-KM was expected before the release of the satellites into their final orbit. The official Russian media confirmed the successful delivery of the satellites around 22:18 Moscow Time. The satellites were officially designated Kosmos-2482, Kosmos-2483 and Kosmos-2484.
However final orbital parameters of the Briz-KM stage indicated that the vehicle had not performed as scheduled. After releasing its payload, Briz-KM apparently never initiated the last pre-programmed firing of its engine, in order to lower the perigee (lowest point of its orbit) and thus accelerate its reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
It was the first space mission involving a beleaguered Briz upper stage, since a similar vehicle nearly doomed a launch of the Proton rocket last year. The success of the latest mission would clear the way to the return to flight for Proton, Russia's commercial workhorse.
The latest Rockot mission with Rodnik satellites was previously scheduled for Aug. 17 and Sept. 14, 2012, before the Proton accident in August. It was later expected in October 2012, however by that month it was rescheduled for November 29. The mission was then postponed to December 8, 2012, at 00:34:48 Moscow Summer Time. By Dec. 6, the launch was delayed until Jan. 15, 2013, due to problems with the performance of the flight control avionics onboard Briz-KM upper stage. On Dec. 8, another Proton left Yamal-402 satellite in the wrong orbit following an engine failure onboard Briz-M stage. Rockot was finally rolled out to the launch pad on Jan. 9, 2013.
Rockot launches a trio of Gonets-M satellites
2013 Sept. 12: Almost eight months after its not-so-flawless mission, the Rockot booster tries again on Thursday. The launch vehicle, converted from the UR-100NU ballistic missile and equipped with Briz-KM upper stage, was reported lifting off from Site 133 in Plesetsk on Sept. 12, 2013, at 03:23:04 Moscow Time (7:23 p.m. EDT on Sept. 11). The rocket was carrying a long-delayed trio of Gonets-M satellites for the Gonets-D1M communications network.
Rockot and Strela launcher specs:
A complete list of Rockot missions:
Page author: Anatoly Zak
Last update: November 22, 2013
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The Rockot booster. Click to enlarge: 263 x 500 pixels / 28K Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
The launch of the UR-100NU missile in Baikonur. Credit: NPO Mash
The launch of the Rockot booster from Plesetsk in May 2000. Credit: Khrunichev
A scale model of the Rockot booster and its surface launch pad in Plesetsk. Click to enlarge: 97 x 400 pixels / 16K (left) and 156 x 400 / 28K Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
A Briz upper stage (apparently, shown in "upside down" position). Credit: Eurockot
The KOMPSAT-2 satellite attached to the Briz-KM upper stage during the launch in July 2006. Credit: Eurockot
After many delays, mission of the GOCE remote-sensing satellite was re-scheduled for 2009. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
Europe's SMOS satellite was launched on the Rockot booster in 2009. Copyright © 2010 Anatoly Zak
A Rockot booster successfully launched the Yubileiny-2 experimental satellite on July 28, 2012. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
In 2008, Rockot became the main carrier of Strela-3M (Rodnik) satellites. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
A Rockot booster lifts off with a trio of Rodnik satellites on Jan. 15, 2013. Credit: Zvezda TV Channel