ESA satellites have flown from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome before (as well as the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan) but this will be the first time one will be launched by Rockot a design that consists of a Russian SS-19 two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) plus a Breeze-KM third stage to place the payload in its final orbit.
Codenamed 'Stiletto' by NATO, around 300 SS-19s were manufactured between the mid 1970s and 80s to serve as a major part of the old Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The liquid-fuelled ICBMs were deployed in locations across Russia and the Ukraine until the START arms control treaties made them redundant. It was in the early 1990s that a new use for them was found.
Today, Eurockot Launch Services is the Bremenbased company that markets and performs commercial Rockot services. The firm is a joint venture between EADS Space and Russia's Khrunichev rocket-makers and has been in existence for a decade.
"Disarmament talks and treaties between the West and the old Soviet Union reduced the strategic arms stock," explains Peter Freeborn of Eurockot. "Then came the bright idea, why not, instead of wrecking or chopping up these ICBMs, why not use at least part of them for peaceful reasons namely for launching satellites into low-Earth orbit?
"To prove the concept that the SS-19 would be a good basic vehicle for launching satellites a trio of test flights took place in the early 1990s, although these used an earlier upper stage design, the Breeze-K. Then the Russians approached German industry and what was then Daiml
Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
European Space Agency