MOSCOW. (Yuri Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - Yuri Solomonov, director and general designer of the Moscow-based Institute of Heat Engineering, said his institute could start work on the Ishim air-launched space system by July 1, 2007.
The Ishim project being implemented on orders from the government of Kazakhstan involves Russia's Aircraft Corporation MiG, which develops a mother plane, and the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering, which undertakes to develop a space rocket. The institute has won a reputation for its Topol-M inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). For its part, the national company Kazkosmos of Kazakhstan plans to use the country's Sary-Shagan anti-ballistic missile testing range for commercial launches.
Experts studied the possibility of aerial ICBM launches for enhancing missile survivability during the Cold War. The idea was to keep strategic missile carriers airborne over Soviet territory in case of a possible enemy attack; they were supposed to launch a retaliatory second strike if war broke out.
The Soviet Union developed the RSM-25 (SS-N-6) strategic air-launched missile for the Antonov An-22 Antheus (Cock) cargo aircraft in the late 1960s.
The Yuzhnoye (South) design bureau in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, completed a preliminary design of the Space Clipper system featuring an An-124SK Ruslan (Condor) cargo jet and six versions of a four-stage solid-propellant rocket in 1989-1991.
But all these projects were halted after the U.S.S.R.'s disintegration.
Russian designers used to work on Burlak, Burlak-M and Burlak-Diana space systems, as well as the Rif-MA system based on an 80-ton SLBM and the Aerokosmos system featuring the Shtil-2A and Shtil-3A SLBMs. Ukrainian experts moved to develop the Svityaz system based on the An-225 Mriya (Dream) Cossack jumbo transport plane and the Zenit-2 rocket, as well as the Oril system comprising the An-124-100 Ruslan (Condor) cargo plane and the RT-23 UTTKH ICBM. However, the last of these missiles were scrapped under the START-2 Treaty; and the only An-225 aircraft cannot conduct regular launches.
Orbital Sciences Corporation of the United States now operates the world's only aerospace system consisting of the L-1011 mother plane and the light-weight Pegasus-XL launch vehicle.
Although air-launched space rockets possess obvious advantages, the Russian Federal Space Agency has neglected this concept for many years. This is deplorable because the An-124 mother plane, which facilitates regular prompt launches, can increase payload mass by about 50%.
Still there seem to be some improvements today. Anyway, Project Vozdushny Start (Air Launch) is included in the 2006-2015 federal space program, while the air-launched space system is to be commissioned by 2010.
Yuri Solomonov said Russia and Kazakhstan, which have the required potential, could complete the Ishim project at an earlier date. Both countries possess mother planes and airfields, while the Institute of Heat Engineering can promptly design and assemble a safe solid-propellant launch vehicle with no toxic components.
The Soviet Union implemented its "anti-SDI" program similar to the U.S. ASAT system for destroying enemy satellites in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1987, the Mikoyan design bureau converted two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31 Foxhound fighters-interceptors into improvised missile carriers and designated them as the MiG-31D. Each of them stored one specialized missile between wing extensions and large triangular flipper-like wing edges, which facilitated in-flight stability. The second prototype MiG-31D was subsequently tested in the town of Zhukovsky outside Moscow for several years. But such tests had to be stopped because the missile never got past the experimental stage.
Both airplanes are now deployed in Kazakhstan, while the Ishim project hinges on the R&D experience of creating the MiG-31D anti-satellite fighter.
The Ishim complex will include two MiG-31I aircraft, a three-stage launch vehicle on a streamlined store between engine nacelles, as well as an Ilyushin Il-76MD Midas surveillance plane.
The MiG-31I and its launch vehicle will have a take-off weight of 50 tons. The aircraft will climb to an altitude of 15 to 18 km, fly 600 km toward the launch point and attain a speed of 2,120-2,230 kph there. The Ishim system will place 160kg payloads into 300km circular orbits and 60kg payloads into 120km orbits. Moreover, highly elliptical, polar and other orbits can be attained. The entire complex can operate from a customer's first-class airfield.
The Kazakh government, which finances this project, first plans to orbit two remote-sensing satellites and six other spacecraft for monitoring oil and gas seams.
Some experts said the Ishim project has future because of growing demand for small space satellites weighing from 40 to 60 kg.
Yuri Zaitsev is an expert with the Space Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences.