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Start Launch Vehicle

The two newest additions to the Russian launch vehicle stable come from the conversion of ballistic missiles declared excess following the START arms control agreements. The Start and Rokot launch vehicles are derived from the RS-12M (NATO designator SS-25) and RS-18 (NATO designator SS-19), respectively, and both flew maiden orbital missions during 1993-1994.

The Start family of space launch vehicles is derived from the SS-25 / RS-12M intercontinental ballistic missile. The START I treaty permits all the parties to convert ICBMs or SLBMs limited by the treaty to boosters that launch payloads into space. A consortium headed by the Kompleks Scientific and Technical Center has converted the RS-12M into a potentially mobile, 4- or 5-stage, low-capacity satellite launcher. A 5-stage model, simply called Start, employs two RS-12M second stages to increase the payload capacity to 850 kg. Both vehicles also carry a small liquid propellant propulsion system to refine the final orbit.

In March 1995 Russia used a variant of the SS-25 ICBM as a space launch vehicle in an attempt to launch satellites into orbit. According to published reports, Russia failed to provide the United States the opportunity to inspect the missile to confirm that it was configured as a space launch vehicle when it exited the Votkinsk missile assembly facility, and it failed to provide the proper notifications, as specified in START I, about the location of the missile prior to the satellite launch. Russia claimed that it was not obligated to notify the United States as to the whereabouts of the missile or permit the United States to inspect the missile at the Votkinsk portal because it was a dedicated space launch vehicle that was not limited by START.

The United States held that the missile was subject to the inspection and notification provisions in START I because it was a variant of a missile limited by the treaty. US insistence upon implementation of this START Treaty provision had the potential to make Russian compliance with the Treaty impossible, because US inspectors would have gained the right to inspect the insides of each SS-25 missile canister--in the field, as well as at the Votkinsk exit portal--to ensure that it did not contain two SS-25 first stages.

During discussions prior to the summit between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in Moscow in May 1995, Russia agreed that space launch vehicles derived from missiles limited by the treaty would remain subject to the restrictions in START.

In September 1995, Russia, the United States, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan concluded a Joint Statement in that clarified the restrictions on converted missiles that were offered to other countries as space launch vehicles.The parties agreed to permit Russia to set up two space launch facilities for converted missiles outside Russian territory, as long as Russia maintains ownership and control of the space-launch vehicles. The converted missiles remain subject to START provisions, so the total number of launchers for these missiles will be limited to 20. Russia will have to notify the United States when it plans to move a converted missile to the space launch facility, and Russia will have to broadcast all telemetry generated during the space launch so that the United States can confirm that the booster carried a satellite, not nuclear warheads.


Background Information
First Launch:
November 1993 (test launch)
Flight Rate:
Launch Site:
Plesetsk, Russia
1,260 to circular polar orbit


  • Five-stage solid propellant vehicle based on the SS-25 (RS-12M) mobile ballistic missile
  • The SS-25 began development in 1971 and test flights in 1982 and entered the service in 1985
  • STC Komplex responsible for the conversion


  • First Stage: SS-25 Stage One
  • Second Stage: SS-25 Stage Two
  • Third Stage: SS-25 Stage Two
  • Fourth Stage: SS-25 Stage Three
  • Fifth Stage: New Solid Stage


94.5 ft
Launch Weight:
132,277 lb
5.9 ft
Liftoff Thrust:
not available
Payload Fairing:
12.8 ft x 5.0 ft

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:07:53 ZULU