Ukraine’s Dnepr rocket, grounded following a July 24 failure, is expected to be cleared for flight in time for its next scheduled mission in November, according to an official with ISC Kosmotras, the Russian-Ukrainian joint venture that markets the vehicle.
In an Aug. 2 telephone interview, Vladislav Solovei, marketing director of Moscow-based Kosmotras, said the investigation into the cause of the accident could wrap up by mid-August, even though the official deadline is Aug. 28. The investigation will be led by Nikolai Anfimov, director of Russia’s Central Scientific Research Institute of Machine-Building , according to the official Web site of Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos.
The three-stage Dnepr, a converted SS-18 ICBM, took off from a silo at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying nearly 20 science payloads, including the 750-kilogram Belka spacecraft for Belarus and Russia’s 87-kilogram Baumanets satellite. The liquid-fueled rocket veered from its planned trajectory during the final phase of its first-stage burn.
Solovei said the rocket’s control system is programmed to shut down the engine if the vehicle veers too far off of its planned trajectory. Main engine shutdown occurred 74 seconds into the flight, and the 211-ton, 34-meter-long rocket crashed 150 kilometers away from Baikonur , which Russia leases from Kazakhstan .
Kazakh authorities have suspended Dnepr launches from Baikonur and are running tests to see if the rocket’s highly toxic heptil fuel has contaminated water of two settlements located 35 and 44 kilometers from the crash site , Kazakhstan Deputy Science and Education Minister Azamat Abdymomunov said in remarks posted Aug. 1 on the official government Web site. So far, the tests have found no contamination , Abdymomunov said.
The rocket fell almost vertically and exploded upon impact, leaving a crater 50 meters wide and 15 meters deep, according to a press release posted by Roskosmos on its Web site Aug. 1. Any fuel that did not burn up during the rocket’s launch, descent and detonation likely evaporated quickly in the hot sunny weather at the crash site, where the temperature was 35 degrees Celsius , according to the Roskosmos press release . Tests indicate that residual heptil fuel components in concentrations high enough to pose a health hazard were limited to a roughly circular area with a radius of 75 meters, Roskosmos said.
Russian and Kazakh specialists were deliberating how to decontaminate the area of the crash, the Roskosmos press release said. Russia will compensate Kazakhstan for any soil contamination or other environmental damage under the terms of a November 1999 agreement, Ilyas Omarov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, said in remarks posted on his government’s Web site July 31.
The failure was the Dnepr’s first in seven launches dating back to April 1999, according to Solovei .
All but one of these launches have taken place from Baikonur. Kosmotras also operates from the Yasny missile base in Russia’s Orenburg region . The inaugural Dnepr launch from this facility took place July 12, with the vehicle successfully launching the Genesis-1 inflatable module experiment for Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas.
The November Dnepr launch is slated to take place from Baikonur. Solovei did not specify the payload, but among the spacecraft on the Dnepr’s near-term manifest are Germany’s TerraSar-X radar satellite and Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis-2 module, a twin of Genesis-1.
The SS-18 missile and Dnepr rocket have a combined success rate of 97 percent over 165 launches , Solovei said . He declined to elaborate.
The SS-18, known in Russia as the RS-20, entered service as part of the Soviet Union’s strategic rocket force in 1975. It was developed by the Yuzhnoye State Design Bureau of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, which builds a number of other rockets and missiles including the Zenit launcher.
Solovei said Kosmotras has a launch manifest that includes U.S. and British satellites and will require three to four Dnepr missions per year until 2020. It is in 2020 that the Yuzhnoye warranty on the vehicles expires, Solovei said.
Under the START-1 treaty with the United States, Russia is allowed to convert up to 150 SS-18 missiles into Dnepr space launchers, according to the Kosmotras Web site.