Russia, Kazakhstan to develop unique space system

19/ 05/ 2006

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,

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

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

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

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.