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Beating Swords Into Plowshares
Converting Military Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to Peaceful Space Launchers

Russian Submarine Novomoscovsk
Launches Satellites From Barents Sea

A Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarine
A Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarine
The Russian nuclear submarine Novomoscovsk used a converted sea-launched ballistic missile to fire two small environmental research satellites into Earth orbit from beneath the Barents Sea in 1998.

The unusual launch was the first time a commercial payload had ever been sent from Earth into orbit from a submarine and the first commercial space launch in the history of the Russian Navy.

The satellites named TUBSAT were launched on a Shitl rocket which was a converted sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

The Shitl Rocket

The Shitl rocket family is one of a range of space launch vehicles derived from decommissioned ballistic missiles offered for sale by Russia after the Cold War.

The industrial design bureau Makeyev OKB had been formed by the former Soviet Union in the 1950s to produce a storable liquid fuel rocket family. Back then, those missiles were known as R-11 for use on land and R-11FM for use by the navy.

Makeyev went on to design and manufacture descendents of the R-11 family, including the infamous Scud-B missile and nearly all of Russia's submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In the 1990s, Makeyev and other OKBs marketed a variety of space rockets converted from surplus SLRBs, which could be launched from the ground, air, sea surface or underwater.

During the Cold War, the military SLBM, which later would become the Shitl space rocket, was known as R-29RM and SS-N-23. The manufacturer was designated RSM-54.

Shitl is a three-stage liquid-fuel rocket. The satellites replaced the nuclear warhead inside a standard R-29RM re-entry vehicle atop the SS-N-23.

The submarine launch plaform was Novomoskovsk K-407, a 667BDRM Delta-IV-class or Delfin-class submarine of the Russian Northern Fleet's 3rd Flotilla.

The Shitl's maiden flight took place July 7, 1998, while the submarine was in a Barents Sea firing range off the coast of the Kolskiy Peninsula at 69.3 degrees N by 35.3 degrees E.

Prior to launch, the space flight had been viewed as a risk because a different one of the Northern fleet's Delta-class submarines had suffered an accident in one of its rocket tubes on May 5, 1998.

The Satellites

The Shtil's former warhead faring housed an Israeli instrument package and the German satellites TUBSAT-N and TUBSAT N-1.

The tiny satellites, referred to as nanosatellites, were built and operated by the Technische Universitat Berlin (TUB).

Each TUBSAT carried small store-and-forward communications payloads used to track transmitters placed on vehicles, migrating animals and marine buoys.

The satellites were dropped off in elliptical orbits ranging from 250 to 500 miles above Earth. They traveled around Earth every 96 minutes.

Tubsat-N, designated internationally as 1998-042A, weighed eighteen lbs. while Tubsat-N1, designated 1998-042B, weighed seven lbs.

Submarine Launches

Technically, putting satellites in low Earth orbits is only a small step from delivering long-range warheads. The Russians had been offering the submarine launch facility as a commercial service for some time and previously had conducted sub-orbital test flights.

The benefits of a submarine launch are safety and ease of putting a payload into a particular orbit. By comparison, there are safety restrictions on the directions toward which land-based rockets can be launched.

On the other hand, these submarine-based missiles converted to space rockets are only big enough to launch small research satellites. They aren't able to launch very large and heavy communications satellites or interplanetary space probes. However, the success of the Shitl launch could open up a valuable small-satellite niche in the space-launch market for the Russians.

The Northern fleet reportedly was paid $111,000 for the launch, which helped the submarine crew sharpen skills diminished by a shortage of training funds.

Berlin Technical University's Transport and Applied Mechanics Department plans to launch two more TUBSATs.

Learn more about nuclear submarines and missiles...

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