Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Russian Dnepr-1 rocket silo blastoff scrubbed again

Updated: August 26, 2000

Artist's concept of a Dnepr-1 launch. Photo: ISC Kosmotras
A former Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missile was awaiting launch today from a silo in Kazakhstan carrying five microsatellites for a variety of countries and organizations, but the mission was scrubbed for the second day running.

The ISC Kosmotras Dnepr-1, a converted SS-18 missile, was due for liftoff at 1000 GMT (6:00 a.m. EDT) from Complex 109 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launcher is loaded with the TiungSat-1, MegSat-1, UniSat and the SaudiSat 1A and 1B spacecraft.

However, like the day earlier the countdown was halted due to a technical problem shortly before liftoff, satellite officials said. The mission has been rescheduled for September, according to Russian news reports.

TiungSat-1 was built by the UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) for Astronautic Technology, SDN, BHD (ATSB) of the Malaysian government. It will be Malaysia's first microsatellite and was manufactured by SSTL under a technology transfer program. Its payload includes four cameras for multi-spectral Earth imaging and meteorological Earth imaging purposes. These cameras range in resolution from 80 meters to 1200 meters. Also included on the 120-pound spacecraft are digital Store and Forward communications equipment, the Cosmic-ray Energy Disposition Experiment (CEDEX) to monitor radiation and GPS orbit determination equipment. The basic shape of the craft is cubic with a large boom extending out of one side that will be unfurled shortly after spacecraft separation. TiungSat means "minor bird" in the native language of Malaysia.

SSTL officials say that potential uses of TiungSat-1 include providing data on various natural resources on Earth, monitoring weather and tracking hurricanes, providing e-mail, internet access, scientific data exchange, fax and voice-mail services to users on the ground, and radiation monitoring in the vicinity of the spacecraft.

The government of Malaysia established ATSB to implement a national microsatellite and minisatellite program. The technology transfer contract established with SSTL includes training eight Malaysian aerospace and mechanical engineers in spacecraft construction and operations. The eight engineers were trained first-hand during the construction of TiungSat-1 at Surrey Space Center at the University of Surrey in Guildford, United Kingdom -- the operating location for SSTL. Their training will continue through the launch. Also part of the contract is the installation of a ground station in Malaysia. "The ground station in Malaysia belongs to (Malaysia) and will be operated by them," said spokesperson Audrey Nice with SSTL. "This was all part of the contract of sale and a team from Malaysia has recently been receiving training for the ground station here at Surrey and (will be in) readiness for operating the satellite immediately after launch."

TiungSat-1 under construction at SSTL with part of the Malaysian team helping. Photo: SSTL.
The objective of the ATSB program is to generate a staff of trained and experienced people who will institute the capability for satellite design throughout both the Malaysian government and private corporations.

MegSat-1 will operate for MegSat, the space division within the Meggiorin group of Italy. Like TiungSat-1, it will also feature a basic cubic shape. Weighing more than 110 pounds (more than 50 kg), it will offer 64 kilobytes per second (KBPS) Store and Forward communications during its four and a half year lifetime. Also included on the spacecraft are two scientific payloads. One will measure UV emissions from the aurora borealis and the other will study microgravity conditions. Some other uses for MegSat-1 include testing out new systems for reading gas and water meters on homes. It is the second in a series of microsatellites to be built by MegSat -- the first, MegSat-0, was launched last year. The development of both spacecraft, including launch and mission operations, is expected to cost MegSat around $7 million.

UNISAT (UNIversity SATellite) will be the first microsatellite fully designed and built by the University of Rome, Italy. The UNISAT program will offer actual spacecraft operations experience for aerospace students and other researchers. University of Rome officials say that their students will use the craft's basic design to gain technical knowledge on spacecraft systems and operations. Scientific experiments are also included on-board the small craft. UNISAT is shaped like an octagonal prism, with 16 centimeter sides and a height of 25 centimeters. Producing 10 watts of power in orbit from solar arrays and batteries, the spacecraft will weigh just 12 kilograms (around 25 pounds).

The Dnepr-1 will also loft the SaudiSat 1A and 1B microsatellites for the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) Space Research Institute of Saudi Arabia.

All of the above payloads will be placed into a circular orbit with an altitude of around 650 kilometers and an inclination of 65 degrees. During ascent, the first stage will be dropped immediately downrange from the launch site in Kazakhstan and the second stage will be dropped into the Pacific Ocean. The third stage will be left in orbit. Spacecraft separation is expected two orbits, or three hours, after launch.

The Dnepr-1 rocket is a three-stage design and stands over 100 feet tall. The first stage is powered by a single RD-264 engine with four chambers and four nozzles. The second stage uses RD-0229 engines. The third stage provides a "spin-up" for spacecraft separation. The rocket is marketed by ISC Kosmotras, a Russian company that has converted former Soviet SS-18 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) to be used as commercial space launch vehicles. The SS-18 ICBMs were built by the NPO Yuzhnoye State Design Bureau. The vehicle can be launched in any temperature and humidity, but the winds must be below 25 meters per second. This launch will be the second for Kosmotras -- the first successfully occurred from Baikonur in April of 1999 using a Dnepr-1.

During the pre-launch preparations, fit checks between the five payloads and the payload adapter were carried out, along with launch vibration tests and separation systems tests. After being transported to Baikonur and placed in its silo, the Dnepr-1 rocket was filled with its storable propellant the week prior to launch. Also during the weeks before launch, integrated electrical checks on the launch vehicle were successfully completed.

On August 16, the five spacecraft were transferred from the custody of their respective owners to the launch services provider -- ISC Kosmotras. During the days following the transfer, the microsatellites were encapsulated inside of the payload shroud and surrounding payload module, including the adapter. The encapsulation process occurred inside of a clean room at Baikonur.

ISC Kosmotras says it expects a "great number of officials, launch observers, and specialists from many countries interested in using Dnepr (-1), such as Italy, USA, Saudi Arabia, UK, Malaysia, France and representatives of European Space Agency," according to a company statement.

According to ISC Kosmotras officials, the company plans a third launch of the Dnepr-1 around the middle of next year. They also say that there will be subsequent launches of the rocket -- pending payload availability and contracts.