back to article ESA's Sentinel satellite to ride converted ICBM

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Sentinel 3-A satellite will soar heavenwards tomorrow from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, riding a "Rockot" converted ICBM lifter. Sentinel 3-A will form part of the European Commission’s Copernicus Earth-monitoring programme. From an altitude of 814.5km, the satellite will "measure …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Converting war tools into science tools

    I can only applaud the Rockot program when it takes decommissioned ICBMs - the Armageddon's lance - and uses them to further Science and human understanding.

    I do wonder what fuel they use though. I am under the notion that Soviet rockets used pretty nasty stuff. I wonder if that has changed.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Rockot fuel

      It's in the article, " a hypergolic mix of dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4 - aka nitrogen tetroxide, or "NTO") and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH)." Nasty stuff.

      1. Sporkinum

        Re: Rockot fuel

        http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/index.html

        http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/books/ignition.pdf

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Rockot fuel

          "ignition" is always worth a read.

          It has some great one liners, as well as a huge amount of technical detail.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Converting war tools into science tools

      Nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine - "the storable liquid propellant of choice"

      I think the clue is in the orange exhaust gases

      Never eat orange snow.

      1. Dan Paul

        Re: Converting war tools into science tools

        Never stand downwind of hypergolic fueled rockets at launch. The long chain polymers in your clothing tend to come apart rather quickly.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Converting war tools into science tools

      The USSR used a lot of liquid fuelled ICBM's where as the US used solid fuel with the Minute man, before that the titans used liquid.

      Orbital Sciences Corporation use decommissioned US MX ICBM's (successor to Miniute man III) to do commercial satellite launches

      1. IvyKing
        Boffin

        Re: Converting war tools into science tools

        The Soviets' motive of the NTO/UDMH ICBM's was that the exhaust plume had a far smaller IR signature than the Aluminum/ammonium perchlorate solid fuel exhaust..

        Looks like the SS-19 was the Russian version of the Titan II.

  2. MyffyW Silver badge

    Third Picture Down

    Is there a Tesco carrier bag towards the bottom of the payload bay? And if so did they pay their 5p?

  3. Crisp Silver badge
    Mushroom

    What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

    I would imagine that there's some way to disarm the bombs and make them fail safe, but is there really any way to do that when the main rocket motor fails and the whole kit and caboodle comes hurtling down towards Earth closely followed by 77 tonnes of rocket fuel?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

      if you're at the stage of sending up armed ICBM's I don't think you really need to worry about a launch failure!

      1. Hurn

        Re: What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

        You do if you're at the launch site. Especially if it's the first one to launch.

        Presumably, there's some sort of arming mechanism, which only arms them once they've traveled far enough away from the launcher. Kinda like submarines and torpedoes (or bombers and bombs, for that matter).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

          if you're at a launch site and the balloon goes up you're DOOMED you've no need to worry about your own warhead falling back to home and hitting you, its he one with a CEP of 0.2mi that's going to be headed your way in the next 20mins that you need to worry about!

        2. DougS Silver badge
          Mushroom

          @Hurn - they have multiple failsafes

          Just after JFK took office in 1961 the US almost nuked North Carolina. A B52 broke up in flight and two 4 megaton hydrogen bombs fell to the earth near Goldsboro. In one of them, three safety mechanisms failed and the fourth and final one was all that prevented detonation.

          I have to think that close call (and there were others back when we were always flying around carrying nukes) probably caused us to add more/better safety mechanisms, so I really doubt you have to worry about an ICBM rocket exploding on the launch pad causing a nuclear explosion of its payload.

    2. DasBub

      Re: What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

      The warheads (at least the American ones) have a set of conditions that need to be met before they'll arm themselves. The warhead itself must experience launch acceleration, then a drop in ambient pressure, then a period of coasting in near vacuum, then the heat and deceleration of reentry, etc.

      If those things don't happen in order and in the correct amounts, it won't go off. At most you'd get asymmetric detonation of the high explosive when it falls back and impacts the earth.

    3. Nigel 11

      Re: What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

      I would imagine that there's some way to disarm the bombs and make them fail safe, but is there really any way to do that when the main rocket motor fails and the whole kit and caboodle comes hurtling down towards Earth closely followed by 77 tonnes of rocket fuel?

      Fortunately detonating an implosion-type plutonium warhead requires a cascade of extremely-precisely timed electrical signals to specialized detonators. Hopefully the master input for that cascade cannot be generated by stuff getting trashed during any sort of accident. Detonation of the conventional explosives by fire and (so we are told) attempts to detonate by someone who has stolen a nuke but does not know the appropriate coded inputs, will at worst cause a nuclear "fizzle" similar to a good few tonnes of TNT and a serious radioactive contamination problem. As soon as the warhead assembly is mechanically bent even slightly out of shape there is no way it will implode symmetrically enough to go nuclear.

      So nothing to worry about, other than why the launch button had been pressed at all, and how many people get to breathe in particles of finely-pulverized plutonium dust if WW3 is not under way.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What does happen when an ICBM launch fails?

      The firing mechanism of modern nuclear bombs consists of an array of shaped explosive charges arranged around a hollow fissionable core and depends upon all of those shaped charges being detonated at precisely the right time, to within extremely tight limits, for the bomb to 'work'; premature detonation of one or more of the shaped charges, or failure of any one of the shaped charges to detonate at precisely the right time will result in the fissile core, along with the rest of the bomb, being blown apart. The biggest bang you'll get in these cases will be from the shaped charges detonating and the biggest problem will be the local radioactive pollution from the destroyed fissile core.

      Whilst there are other safeguards preventing the premature arming and ignition of the firing mechanism, there's not really a need to be able to disarm a nuclear bomb in the event of a launch failure.

      Edited to add: pretty much what Nigel 11 says above - started typing before he posted but got called away, so ended up posting after him.

  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    "Decommissioned"?

    So, all Putin needs to do to start (continue?) world war 3 is to announce a couple of 'satellite launches' using 're-purposed ICBMs' from a 'decommissioned ICBM base'. So no-one worries when the launches are detected...

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "Decommissioned"?

      Oh.. I think 5 or 10 launches in rapid succession would be a dead giveaway.

  5. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    SLSTR? OLCI? MWR? Sheesh!

    Proper boffins they may be, but no sense of style. This sounds like a job for the Register's International Backronym Initiating Taskforce or RIBIT.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: SLSTR? OLCI? MWR? Sheesh!

      Agreed. They should contract us to do the job properly.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. phuzz Silver badge
    Boffin

    The rocket used to launch both Soyuz and Progress is based off the R7 ICBM (which was in fact the the very first ICBM), so it would be accurate to say that most rockets are based on ICBMs given that the majority of space hardware has launched on an R7 derived rocket over the years.

    >>>> About time we got a rocket/rocket science icon methinks

  8. Kurt Meyer

    Congratulations to the ESA

    I read on Deutsche Welle the the launch was successful, and that Sentinel-3A was aloft. Great news!

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