65th International Astronautical Congress | For Upcoming ESA Missions, Rockot To Meet Debris-mitigation Guidelines

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TORONTO — German-Russian commercial launch provider Eurockot on Sept. 30 said it had guaranteed its biggest customer, the European Space Agency, that the three upcoming Eurockot launches will end with the rocket upper stages being placed into an orbit that assures their atmospheric re-entry within 25 years.

The company also said demand for its Rockot launcher, a converted ballistic missile, from the Russian government is almost certain to continue through the end of the decade despite occasional statements from Russian officials saying they want to move to a new version of Russia’s Soyuz vehicle, and to the all-new Angara rocket family.

Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, a joint venture between Airbus Defence and Space and Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, sells the Rockot to mainly government customers in Europe and Asia for Earth observation and science satellite launches.

The company has been criticized in the past for leaving rocket and payload-separation hardware — notably when it launches more than one satellite at a time — in low Earth orbit at altitudes too high to meet the 25-year re-entry guideline, which is nonbinding but has become an international standard.

Addressing the 65th International Astronautical Congress here, Eurockot Chief Executive York Viertel said the promise to ESA for the Sentinel 3A, Sentinel 2B and Sentinel 5P environmental satellites, which are all in Eurockot’s backlog of orders, does not necessarily extend to missions where the Rockot carries multiple satellites.

In those cases, he said, Eurockot, like several other launch providers, avails itself of an allowed exception in the orbital debris mitigation guidelines.

Russian defense officials in recent months have suggested that Russian Defense Ministry demand for Rockot launches, purchased directly from Khrunichev and not considered commercial orders, will tail off around 2016. In addition, Eurockot regularly fields questions about how many SS-19 ICBMs remain in the Russian stockpile and are available for conversion to space launch vehicles.

Viertel said his understanding is that Russia’s Roscosmos space agency will continue using the vehicle, and that in any event the new Soyuz variant and the Angara rocket family will not be in service until around 2020.

“We have vehicles and customers to be able to continue launching at least until the end of the decade,” Viertel said.

After issues mainly involving its Breeze-M upper stage, which is similar to the Khrunichev-built upper stage used on Russia’s heavy-lift Proton rocket, the Rockot vehicle has conducted five successful missions in the past 10 months.