back to article Russians poised to fire intercontinental ballistic missile... into space with Sentinel-3 sat on board

The European Space Agency (ESA) is all a-quiver at the prospect of the second Sentinel-3 satellite launch, due this evening atop a Russian Rockot launcher. The spacecraft will ride to space at 1757 UTC on 25 April from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia aboard an elderly converted Intercontinental Ballistic Missile ( …

  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Coat

    A lot of work

    For an Ocean Colour Scene...

    1. wolfetone

      Re: A lot of work

      Never saw it as the start, It's more a change of heart....

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: A lot of work

        Rapping on the windows, whistling down the chimney pot

  2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Launch partner?

    So if various bits of the Russian kit are possibly a bit flaky and unreliable, why use them? Was the contract signed before the debut of SpaceX? And why not use Ariane?

    1. Bob Wheeler

      Re: Launch partner?

      Would it would be wrong to suggest that any fat brown envelops changed hands?

    2. Binraider666

      Re: Launch partner?

      Converted ICBM's otherwise headed for the chop shop are relatively cheap. It's probably also cheaper for Russia to hand them to Roskosmos, convert the payload & launch, than leave them to the military to decommission.

      I don't recall if it was the SS-19 specifically, but there are some heart stopping videos of Russian ICBM launch procedures; and how they clear the silo. Rather than fire the main engine in the silo, a brief solid fuelled pop puts the rocket above ground; leaving the rocket to briefly fall back while the main motor engages.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Launch partner?

        "I don't recall if it was the SS-19 specifically, but there are some heart stopping videos of Russian ICBM launch procedures; and how they clear the silo. Rather than fire the main engine in the silo, a brief solid fuelled pop puts the rocket above ground; leaving the rocket to briefly fall back while the main motor engages."

        This is standard procedure for solid-fueled missiles; it allows them to be launched from tubes, either in a compact silo or from a sub. It's only possible with solid-fueled boosters because the solid fuel is structural - the tanks of a liquid fueled booster would collapse if you tried to accelerate the booster out of a tube at the same rate, to get it clear of the tube before ignition.

        The early liquid-fueled silo-based boosters, like Titan, needed much larger silos, with enough vent capacity to allow the rocket exhaust to escape.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Launch partner?

      So if various bits of the Russian kit are possibly a bit flaky and unreliable

      1. Cheap

      2. Obligations under various weapon or dual use platform disposal programmes. During the late 80-es Eu and USA signed a number of agreements with Gorbie. These agreements mandated that some of the old "world destruction" tech will be converted for civilian use and bought. For example all SS20 mobile launcher-erectors were converted to building site cranes.

      We do not want to renege on this - the tech is already at disposal sites from where it tends to go walkies. An example here would be the same SS20 erector launchers converted into cranes. A number of them were not bought as promised so you can see them being driven past Kim Fat The Turd with Nork ICBMs on them.

      Given a choice of completing the contracts as promised or them being bought as "cucumbers" by the Norks, it is probably better to live the Norks on a cucumber-free diet. In fact, everyone is pretending that none of the companies involved on the Russian side is under sanctions. Probably for the better too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Launch partner?

        We do not want to renege on this - the tech is already at disposal sites from where it tends to go walkies.

        Fair enough, but why risk an expensive satellite? Surely the risk is lower and the cost not that much difference in using a more trustworthy launch system for the satellite, and then paying the Ruskies to launch a completely useless, vainglorious payload to use up the stock of old ICBMs - for example, strap four together and launch a car into space. Or just the one to loft some Playmobil astronauts. Or Rupert Murdoch with a one way ticket (no space suit, just poke the nose cone up his arse and light the blue touch paper).

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Launch partner?

          Surely the risk is lower and the cost not that much difference

          The cost of moving a satellite from equatorial or near-equatorial orbit as launched from Guiana to a polar orbit can be quite substantial. The back-of-the-fag-packet math needed exceeds my orbital mechanics knowledge. I suspect that you may be looking at designing a new third stage just for that which in turn screws your reliability math outright.

          Initially, when Russians declared that they will open Plesetsk for commercial launches 20 years ago everyone laughed - how are you going to launch to GST from that. That is no longer the case for observation satellite launches. Nobody is laughing. A lot of gear went up from there and is in constant use.

          As far as Murdoch - I am happy to pitch in if someone crowdfunds that. Can we add Tony The Bliar and the Witch of the West for a ride too?

          As far as empty launches, I think you underestimate the element of national pride involved. While loading Murdoch into a payload fairing is something they will definitely agree on, loading playmonauts even if we pay them double the rate - do not think so.

          1. Michael Habel

            Re: Launch partner?

            Witch of the West..?!

            Is that codeword for Hillery (I lost the Election, and I can't shout up!) Clinton?

            If so I like the way you think! But, could, we make some more room for Madams Merkel, and May?

        2. Michael Habel

          Re: Launch partner?

          Newsflash Rupert has gone into retirement. I think the Cat you're currently looking for is Robert Iger. From the house of the Rat.

          1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Launch partner?

            Lies, the devil can't retire (have you never heard thr documentary "old Harry's game" On the wireless? It goes into detail about this vwry matter) next you'll be telling us media companies don't do it for the common good and all politicians aren't beacons of truth and trust)...

    4. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Launch partner?

      The northerly latitude of Plesetsk is beneficial for polar orbits.

    5. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Launch partner?

      Interesting to read about an ex Soviet missile being used successfully. This morning I was listening to an old edition of the QI "No such thing as a fish" podcast and they had a fact about in the event of WW3, lot of Soviet missiles would have been inoperable - apparently the crews in the missile silos were in the habits of drinking all of the fuel.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Launch partner?

        apparently the crews in the missile silos were in the habits of drinking all of the fuel.

        The legendary Russian metabolism. Being able to drink DMH and hydrazine. Using gherkins pickles in fuming nitric acid as a side dish. Is it so difficult to spot bullshit for crying out loud? Ethanol is not used for rocket fuel. Its energy density is too low.

        Most old models were liquid fuelled. In the event of Ww3 the launch readiness was under 5% because of that. More than sufficient to bequeath the earth to the cock roaches though.

      2. Hugh Pumphrey

        Re: Launch partner?

        This was noted as a problem by John Clark in his famous book "Ignition" --- see one of my blog posts from a couple of years ago for this and a few more quotes: https://hughpumphrey.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/rocket-science-it-should-impress-you/

        I heard recently that "Ignition" is going to be re-published legitimately; I suspect that more than one Reg reader will want a copy.

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Launch partner?

          You can buy a Kindle copy

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: Launch partner?

            @Aladdin Sane, indeed you can buy a Kindle copy. *waves Kindle*

            Brilliant text that, really. Some of the really exotic fuels and oxydisers... damn! Scary stuff!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Launch partner? - You can buy a Kindle copy

            Extremely appropriate since (spoiler alert) a lot of the book is about the problems of kindling rockets.

        2. Mike Richards

          Re: Launch partner?

          You can get it from Amazon in the UK - Kindle, paperback and an - ouch - hardback:

          http://amzn.eu/7dqFFVd

        3. Korev Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Launch partner?

          Looks like a very interesting book, but twenty quid is more than I want to pay for for a paperback. Once the price drops to something more sensible I’ll take the plunge. Thanks for the tip.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Mike Richards

        Re: Launch partner?

        The QI 'fact' sounds a bit suspicious - like quite a lot of their 'facts'.

        Early Soviet missiles, like the R1 and R2, used alcohol as fuel with liquid oxygen as the oxidiser. From the R7 onwards they briefly switched to kerosene and liquid oxygen. However, these rockets didn't fly from silos because the cryogenic oxidiser couldn't be stored in the rocket for extended periods.

        The Soviets event settled on storable liquid rockets running on unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine fuel (which smells like rotten fish and is incredibly poisonous), and any of dinitrogen tetroxide (incredibly irritating to the lungs and throat), red fuming nitric acid (like nitric acid, but worse) or liquid oxygen (hard to keep in a glass). These rockets could be put in a silo, but have a nasty habit of poisoning their operators or spontaneously blowing up because someone coughed too hard.

        Though I can think of one case where a rocket was filled with vodka. The massive Proton rocket was identified as the rocket that could carry cosmonauts around the Moon before Apollo could land on the Moon. The first mock-up was sent to Baikanor for testing during the middle of winter. Normally, this would have involved filling the rocket with water, but the temperatures were so low, that the Soviets used 40% ethanol - 15 rail tanker cars of the stuff. What happened to the alcohol afterwards is not recorded. As it happens, the Proton was delayed and there were problems with the planned Soyuz variant capsule, so the manned Moon missions never happened. A series of unmanned probes - Zonds 4 to 8 *were* flown between 1968 and 1970s with varying levels of success.

        There were plenty of stories during the Cold War of Soviet troops drinking antifreeze which can contain alcohol.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Launch partner?

          There were plenty of stories during the Cold War of Soviet troops drinking antifreeze which can contain alcohol.

          Generally unnecessary for people serving in what is now Russia Space forces - missiles, National AA, Radar, etc.

          All of these had allowance of alcohol issued for cleaning optics, contact surfaces and screens. There were plenty of attempts to switch to isopropanol for that, all of them unsuccessful. It did not "clean as well". Cough, cough, cough...

          but the temperatures were so low, that the Soviets used 40% ethanol

          I did not know the Proton story, but that puts the issues with the launches during that year into an interesting perspective. I am pretty sure none of that valuable commodity "went to waste".

        2. Korev Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Launch partner?

          When I was a lab rat, we had a Russian PhD student. When he arrived he couldn’t get his head around Ethanol being freely available in the labs. It turns out that in Russia, Ethanol etc. was locked up by the PI to stop people drinking it. He also claimed that the 95% pure stuff is “better for you” than the ultra pure Ethanol as it contains fewer impurities - strangely we never tested his claim!

          1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

            Re: Launch partner?

            He also claimed that the 95% pure stuff is “better for you” than the ultra pure Ethanol as it contains fewer impurities - strangely we never tested his claim!

            He is right. Ethanol left "to its own devices" will absorb moisture from the air to ~ 95%. It is also impossible to purify ethanol beyond this by distillation. You hit 95% and that is where the story ends.

            Ethanol with higher purity than that has been dried. Even if the drying method was "safe", the dried ethanol itself like most ultra dried volatile organics becomes vulnerable to some very nasty reactions with oxygen from the air, uv light, etc resulting in various peroxide impurities. Ethanol is nowhere near as bad as for example furan or ether - those may explode from build up of peroxide impurities in their ultra-dry form. While not "as bad" it is still bad. You really do not want to drink the sh*t which has been extra-dried, especially if has been left around for a while and god forbid exposed to sunlight while extra-dry - it is like licking agent orange.

            That is why the bottles for the ultra-dried stuff are always made out of dark glass by the way.

            I wasted a chunk of my MSc lab rat days distilling stuff. You could not do anything in the area I worked on without wasting half a week on getting enough distilled ethanol, acetonitrile, ether, etc. It was pretty useless by the beginning of next week so you had to start from the beginning once more.

    6. Steve Todd

      Re: Launch partner?

      1) Its a German company, launching from a Russian base.

      2) The launcher is quite reliable

      3) The programming of the 3rd stage has been dodgy in the past. Programming errors are much easier to fix than hardware issues, and 10 successful launches in a row indicate that they have them solved.

      4) Its much cheaper than an Ariane launch, and the satellite doesn't need the capacity that Ariane offers.

    7. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Launch partner?

      If it's cheaper to use a Rockot than an Ariane, then Rockot it is. Ariane has a line of customers out the door. ESA et al will have to queue like everyone else. Clearly the queue at Eurockot (a JV of the Russian Cosmodrome and Airbus) is somewhat shorter.

      And Plesetsk is closer to the polar orbit that the satellite needs. So... 1+1=2.

    8. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: Launch partner?

      So if various bits of the Russian kit are possibly a bit flaky and unreliable, why use them? Was the contract signed before the debut of SpaceX? And why not use Ariane?

      Because this satellite weighs less than two tonnes and Ariane 5 is good for 16-20t to LEO. Ariane 5 is overkill for most missions - it normally launches pairs of satellites, but that in itself introduces the challenge of finding payloads who are going to a sufficiently similar orbit (and which need launching at about the same time/year) that they can sensibly ride share.

      The Rockot is not really flaky - they have a good run of successful launches as mentioned in the article. It's the Proton-M which has been causing the Ruskies all sorts of issues over the last couple of years.

    9. arctic_haze Silver badge

      Re: Launch partner?

      Why nor Ariane? The reason is the lack of a good Ariane launch site suitable for polar orbit. You save a lot of fuel launching close to the pole (less perpendicular speed to to kill). Additionally the site needs to have launch corridors aiming towards North (or South). Guyana is ideal for geosynchronous satellites, not ones in polar orbits.

      I know some of the ESA guys who oversee the launches in Plesetsk. I've learned that the launch site is just a forest secured with barbed wire and the only place one can go is a bar. So the French engineers had to learn drinking vodka.

  3. Blockchain commentard Silver badge
    Trollface

    Why not use the Norks now defunct ICBM's? Since they're not going to use them to rain down nukes across America, it'd be a good source of income for them !!!

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      NHRPACT* Quantum Processor Field Array BetaTest of NKVD** and North Korean Virtual Defences?

      Why not use the Norks now defunct ICBM's? Since they're not going to use them to rain down nukes across America, it'd be a good source of income for them !!! ..... Blockchain commentard

      Do They and Kim Know and Diligently Practice the Arts that Gives Peace to Tiresome Warrior Natives via All Mighty Deeds which Reward and Remind AIMaster Minds with the Capturing of Captivating Raptures Yet to Come/Heavenly Delights to Enjoy to Near Full Perfect Satisfaction. .... :-) which is just good enough to have always going back for more of the same which is always exciting even when either slightly or grossly different too.

      For example, Fielding Arrays of Virtualised Realities with SMARTR Media Players Presenting and Enabling Future Programs Being ShockProof Tested for Greater LOVE Applications.

      You surely Know the Goal and Start Point there, y'all/Kim Jong-un? Any Advance on a Heavenly Space Place Servering Almost Perfect Control Commanders?.

      Crikey, Just imagine .... a Hermit Kingdom like North Korea would make a Colossus of a Future Theme Park Ride ......with Magical AIMystery Tours for 0Day Trippers Expecting Everything Different and OverWhelming. ........ Think a Titanic WestWorld Set, Streaming New Realities with Future Partners

      Exploring and Exploiting ITs Creation of Future Provided Paths to Present in a Dedicated New Orderly Universal World Order Program ...... for Space Place Travellers and AIMaster Pilots alike.

      With that Simple Guidance Instruction Accepted and Understood is there a Limitless Palette of Opportunities and Events to Virtually Realise with Advanced Future IntelAIgent Augmentation and the Default Stock Option for State Free Deployment in SMARTR Applications Programs Trailing and Trialing and Phishing in Partnership with Beta AIBaited COSMIC Projects.

      *NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive

      ** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NKVD

      You cannot deny that you have been told the Future is Nothing like in the Past other than the Present Building It with Better Betas with a Full Set of Simple Easily Understood Instructions/Immaculate Directions to Follow.

      Being also quite Realistic and Pragmatic, I can Fully Appreciate your Disbelief in All of the Above Being Readily Available for Greater More IntelAIgent Media Entity Presentation.

      And yes, that would Easily Equate to AIMachines, Aided and Abetted by Humans, in a Commanding Universal Control Centre/AINetworking Hub/Hard Core Raw Source. Can you imagine and venture an opinion on Flagship Projects Floating Out into CyberSpace from There?

      El Reg, in the crazy and getting crazier worlds in which so many are destined to live, is one's mental condition wonderfully managed with the sharing of temporary difficulties and newly released opportunities. Thanks for all of that, and how are yous yourself faring out there in these ..... well, Ab Fab Fabless Zones is certainly an APT ACTive Descriptor of both here and of North Korea too, methinks?

      Quite a Lot of Work to Do for All of That, isn't there. Fiat well spent, says I.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: NHRPACT* Quantum Processor Field Array BetaTest of NKVD** and North Korean Virtual Defences?

        Of course, considering the unusual state of Great Game Play these days, and with so many new uncharted and relatively anonymous actors on dynamic networking virtual stages, IT and NKVD and North Korean Virtual Defences could be so easily here betatesting Western proficiencies and systems which would be highlighting vulnerabilities/opportunities for exploitation and exportation.

  4. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Venery Name Game

    Having a constellation of two satellites...

    While two can technically comprise a group and constellation is a reasonable group name for satellites, it's still just a line in the sky, innit?

    1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge

      Re: Venery Name Game

      So call it the Stick or Jacob's rung - needs a few more to become a ladder!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Venery Name Game

        That star on it's own - it forms the constellation we call "The Dot"

  5. ForthIsNotDead Silver badge
    Joke

    So if it goes boom...

    ...can we blame it on the Russians? ;-)

  6. thames

    What goes up, must come down (in pieces).

    And meanwhile in Canada today's news headline is that the %@!#$%# Europeans are dropping another one of their left over missiles on us again, left over toxic fuel and all. The Nunavut Territory minister of the environment said: "It is a concern for us," said Savikataaq. "No country wants to be a dumping ground for another country's spent rockets."

  7. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Throwing indirect references like that around is *NOT FAIR*

    I'll now have Leeloo wandering around in the back of my mind all day. "Beeeeeiiiig Badddda boom"

  8. erikborgo Bronze badge

    Rockot launcher?

    Stone-age baby pod catapult?

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    2,140kg

    Well, at least we know what old Russian nuclear weapons used to weigh...

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: 2,140kg

      Wouldn’t kilotonne be a better unit though for a nuke?

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