Eurockot Says It Has Enough Usable Missiles To Operate Through 2020

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BEIJING — The German-Russian company offering commercial launch services using converted Russian SS-18 missiles said it has enough usable missile hardware to continue operations through the end of the decade and is maintaining prices at between 30 million and 32 million euros ($39 million-$44.6 million) per launch.

Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, a joint venture between Astrium of Germany and Khrunichev of Russia, is presenting itself as a low-cost alternative to Europe’s new government-backed Vega rocket, and to the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr vehicle, whose price is similar but whose future availability is unclear.

Markus Poetsch, a Eurockot mission manager who on Oct. 1 will become the company’s chief technical officer, said Eurockot’s price is all-inclusive — save for those with multisatellite payloads requiring special adaptors — and compares favorably with Vega, which was developed by the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA), a major Eurockot customer, and has conducted two successful flights.

Poetsch said the price for passengers with piggyback payloads of 100-150 kilograms is between 5 million and 6 million euros.

Numerous designers of small launch vehicles attending the 64th International Astronautical Congress here Sept. 23-27 said they are adapting their product offers to accommodate much smaller satellites launched in groups.

“We are seeing more demand for constellations of small satellites and we are seeing proposals with business plans that seem more likely to succeed than before,” Poetsch said. 

Besides the performance of its Breeze KM reignitable upper stage, which has been responsible for two flight anomalies in three years, the biggest question surrounding Eurockot is how many converted SS-19 ballistic missiles are in sufficiently good condition to be used by Rockot. It is this hardware that has enabled Eurockot to maintain its low prices.

Poetsch said Eurockot is interested only in those missiles made in the 1990s. He said that among those, there are about 80 remaining whose condition has been checked and that are available to Rockot — enough to continue service to the end of the decade.

A successful Sept. 11 Rockot launch of a Russian government satellite communications mission has renewed ESA’s confidence in Rockot’s reliability. ESA’s three identical Swarm satellites, after more than a year’s delay, are now scheduled for launch Nov. 14 aboard a single Rockot vehicle.

The three satellites arrived on three separate air flights at Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome between Sept. 17 and Sept. 21. While weighing only 468 kilograms at launch including 99 kilograms of propellant, the Swarm team arrived in Plesetsk with 63,000 kilograms of freight.

Eurockot has four commercial missions in its backlog including the Swarm launch. The other three are also for ESA and include two Sentinel Earth observation satellites and one ESA reservation that has not yet been assigned a payload.