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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK


Russian missiles start new life

The Dnepr-1 was launched from a silo at the Baikonur cosmodrome

Russia has launched an experimental satellite into orbit using a converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The SS-18 Satan rocket was once armed with nuclear warheads and targeted at the United States. But the under the provisions of Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), it had to be either decommissioned or adapted for civilian use.

The rocket, now known as the Dnepr-1, launched from from a silo at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It performed its new duties perfectly.

It placed an Earth observation satellite into a low, 650km orbit. The satellite was built by the UK company Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

Proving technology

The UoSat-12 satellite contains a colour Earth observation camera with a resolution of 40m, and a black and white camera which can pick out objects as small as nine metres.

The research and development satellite will be used to demonstrate low-cost technology for studying meteorology, vegetation cover, rivers and coastlines, as well as monitoring floods, deforestation and natural disasters.

"As far as the launch is concerned, it's been a perfect success," said Audrey Nice from the company, which is a commercial arm of the University of Surrey.

"The satellite separated from the rocket, as it should have done, 877 seconds into the flight. We've already had telemetry back to confirm that it is now successfully orbiting on its own."

Destructive power

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd paid a "substantial amount" to the Russian launch provider ISC Kosmotras to use the converted SS-18 missile.

The SS-18 Satan is Russia's most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile. It has a range of about 9,500km (6,000 miles), and can be armed with 10 independent, 750 kiloton nuclear warheads, each having more than 35 times the destructive power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

The Start treaty specifies that all of the former Soviet Union's SS-18 nuclear missiles have to be withdrawn by the year 2007. Because they are already designed to fly into space, converting them into launchers for satellites is relatively straightforward.

Used as a booster rocket, the SS-18 can put satellites weighing up to four tonnes into orbit.

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