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Into space from aircraft
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

There is a clear trend now on the world market of launch services to use light-class launch vehicles. This is explained by a mushrooming of programs to develop and utilize light-weight spacecraft in low-orbit satellite communications systems, programs for the remote sensing of the Earth and navigation for space research and experimental probes.
The best option, technologically and economically, is to put such vehicles in a near-Earth orbit by means of aircraft. The Air Launch program now being successfully implemented in close partnership with Indonesia is the culmination of Russian research in this field.
The idea of such an unusual launching method is as follows: a heavy Ruslan transport plane delivers a two-stage rocket with a satellite to an altitude of 11 kilometers and jettisons it. When, helped by a parachute, the rocket assumes a vertical position, its first stage fires.
Currently, Russia and Indonesia are winding down talks on building the ground infrastructure for the project on Biak Island, Vladimir Degtyar, director of the Makeyev KB (design bureau) state-run rocket center, which is spearheading the program, said in the middle of March.
“The main goal of our company is to realize the Air Launch project under the Federal Space Program of Russia,” Degtyar said. “The job is being done by leading Russian aerospace firms in cooperation with Ukraine’s Antonov company, which developed the launch vehicle based on the An-124-100 (Ruslan) heavy aircraft.”
What has been done so far, he said, is “front-end engineering design, a business plan, feasibility studies and organizational documents needed to complete the talks with foreign partners on investments and construction of ground infrastructure.”
He added that “the payload that can be launched into a reference orbit with an altitude of 200 kilometers and an inclination of 90 degrees is ten times greater than in similar American projects, and the facility’s ability to put a payload of 0.8 tonnes into a geostationary orbit (36,000 kilometers) is unprecedented.”
Earlier, Air Launch president Anatoly Karpov reported that the facility would cost between $120 million and $130 million to build. The relatively low cost of the project is due to “the use of tried and tested and rugged components.” These are a heavy An-124-100 transport plane designed to lift the launch vehicle to the departure point and carry out the pre-blast maneuver, a modified NK-43M oxygen-kerosene engine (the engine powering the first stage of the Polyot launch vehicle) and the modified I unit of the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle.
Flight tests at the facility are scheduled to be completed by 2009. –0-