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Volna Launch Vehicle

The Volna, a launcher based on the R-29R submarine-launched ballistic missile-NATO designator SS-N-18/Stingray-has a length of 46 feet long and a diameter of 6 feet. It is designed to launch small spacecraft, with the warhead section used to accommodate the payload. A small rocket engine mounted in the payload section allows the injection of small spacecraft into near-earth orbits. The Makeyev Design Bureau and State Rocket Center, located in the Chelyabinsk region of the Russian Federation, is trying to market space launch versions of its former submarine launched ballistic missiles. Beginning in 1991 Makeyev began launching RSM-50 (NATO designator SS-N-18) missiles from Delta IV submarines on short ballistic flights for commercial customers. Launches take place near Murmansk and are recovered near the Kamchatka peninsula.

The Volna ["wave"] launch vehicle is based on the two-stage, liquid propellant RS-50 (SS-N-18) missile, intended for the ballistic flight of return capsules or, if equipped with a solid-propellant thruster, for small-size spacecraft injections into low Earth orbits. The Rocket-space complex is intended for conducting scientific and technological studies in the conditions of micro-gravity with the use of the recoverable flight vehicle, in which is placed different scientific research equipment, and the launching of experimental automatic spacecraft in the interests of finalizing new constructions and technologies under the conditions for suborbital and orbital flights.

However this mode of space launch had a very limited commercial application. Avantages of mobile launch platform are to major extent inhibited by necesity to use instrumented downrange track. Thus, instead of launching "from anywhere in the global ocean", subs would have to stick to their currently used firing ranges (i.e. Barents Sea or Sea of Okhotsk, in case of Russia). Coordination with the military for launching from an operational sub will be difficult. Apparently, this is much more difficult, than launching from a ground-based missile test range, where active military sites could be somehow separated from commercial.

Moreover, sticking to subs as launch platforms deters upgrading of SLBMs for greater efficiency in SLV mode. If the launcher is hosted on military sub, you can not increase payload fairing or put up an extra kick stage.On the contrary, all that could be most easily done on ground-based facility, which is used for test firing of SLBMs before putting them onto subs.The bottom line is that SLBMs appear more promising as baseline rockets to be converted into light-weight SLVs rather than immediate launchers with "flexible" launch site and path.

Comparison with Sea Launch is complicated by the fact, that the former features medium-to-large launcher and targets market of geosynchronous satellites. SLBMs could only compete in light-weight LEO segment of launch services market.So far there appears to be already an overcapacily in small launchers. Moreover, stacking numerous payloads on bigger rockets and piggy-backing on bigger satellites would probably also accomodate a greater portion of presumably increasing number of small payloads.

Eventually, Makeyev hoped to introduce the liquid-propellant RSM-50 Volna and RSM-40 (NATO designator SS-N-8) Vysota space launch vehicles. The former, launched from either a Delta-III or Delta-IV submarine, could carry payloads into LEO of up to 115 kg from equatorial sites. The Delta-I launched Vysota had about the same payload capacity but offered a smaller payload volume: 0.7 m3 compared to 1.3 m3 for Volna.

During 1993 the Makeyev Design Bureau and American investors examined the possibility to creating a new launch vehicle based on the RSM-54 and the RSM-52 (NATO designator SS-N-20). Called Surf, the launch vehicle would use the first stage of the RSM-52 solid-propellant booster topped with the four stages of the RSM-54. Rather than employing submarine or ground-level launch platforms, Surf would be launched in a floating condition on the surface of the sea and would provide a LEO payload capacity of 2.4 metric tons (References 234-240).

Volna can launch payloads of up to 60 kg to an altitude of 400 km, of 45 kg to an altitude of 600 km and of 30 kg to an altitude of 800 km. Volna is launched from a mobile launch platform carried onboard a submarine. In theory this means that launches can be made from virtually any location in the world's oceans. All launchings are accomplished from the submarine from the water areas of Barents or Norwegian Sea and Pacific Ocean.

For conducting experiments in weightlessness with the guarantee of micro-gravity with 10-5 - 10-6 g is created the recoverable flight vehicle "shuttlecock", launched by Volna to suborbital trajectories. On the apparatuses of such type were conducted studies in the interests of obtaining materials with the improved properties, biological preparations and other scientific purposes. Apparatus ensures functioning in space and return to the earth of research equipment with mass to 220 kg. For the starting of the research equipment with a mass of up to 400 kgf is developed the recoverable apparatus "bolide".

The high adaptive possibilities of rocket-space complex Volna to new trajectories when it is necessary to ensure the varied conditions for the entrance of apparatus into the Earth's atmosphere with its landing on one range. They make it possible to use a complex for finalizing of the promising descent vehicles, including with the imitation of flight conditions in the atmosphere of other planets.

By carrier rocket Volna, during the equipment with its small size starting block, is ensured the starting of automatic spacecraft to the near earth orbits. Launchings are accomplished from the submarine from the water areas of the North Sea and Pacific Ocean with the realization of the wide range of orbit inclinations.

Designed and built at Miass in the Urals by the Makeev Design Bureau (KB Makeev), Volna was first test-launched into a ballistic trajectory of 7500 km in June 1995. Later launches took place near the Murmansk and Kamchatka peninsula. By 2004, three launches had taken place with one failure.

The German Tubsat was launched on 07 July 1998 from a Russian Delta 4-class submarine. The sub, the Novomoskovsk was north of Murmansk at the time of launch. The submarine was submerged during the launch, which is its normal mode of operation for combat firing.

Solar sailing utilizes reflected light pressure pushing on giant panels, which adjust to the continuously changing orbital energy and spacecraft velocity. The sunlight pressure is powerful enough to push spacecraft between the planets from Mercury out to Jupiter. Beyond Jupiter, and out to the stars, space sailing can be done using powerful lasers focused over long distances in space. Visionary Russian space pioneer Friederich Tsander proposed the concept of sailing though space using only the force provided by the energy in sunlight. But at the time, materials strong, thin and durable enough to withstand the harsh radiation environment of space didn't exist. Solar sail propulsion continued to captivate engineers in modern space history, and in recent years, several advances have been made toward testing and deploying solar sails on Earth and in low-Earth orbit by the space agencies of the U.S., Germany and Japan.

Cosmos Studios and A&E Network sponsored the Cosmos 1 project, a privately funded effort with scientific and commercial objectives, that involved the cooperation of Russian space and defense organizations through a contract with The Planetary Society. The Cosmos 1 test craft deployed two solar sail blades, while the full solar sail to be launched later in 2001 was to deploy eight blades. The 30-minute sub-orbital test flight would test the sail's deployment sequence and performance. Data collected from this test will help engineers prepare for the first solar sail mission planned for late 2001.

Russia's Babakin Space Center is the prime contractor for the project. The company is a spin-off organization of NPO Lavochkin, one of the largest manufacturers of robotic spacecraft in the world. The Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Makeev Rocket Design Bureau also play major roles in project development. Makeev is responsible for development of the Volna rocket - which will launch both the test spacecraft in July 2001 and the orbital mission scheduled for the end of 2001 - and had made arrangements with the Russian Navy for the launches.

On 20 July 2001 the spacecraft was launched successfully from the submarine Borisoglebsk in the Barents Sea, but the Volna rocket failed to send the final command to separate the spacecraft from the upper stage. Without separation, the spacecraft could not initiate either its solar sail deployment sequence or the inflation sequence for the re-entry capsule. The upper stage, spacecraft and capsule complex crashed in the Kamchatka peninsula.

On 21 June 2005 a Volna rocket was launched near Murmansk in the Barents Sea from the K-496 Borisoglebsk, a Kalmar class submarine. The Volna, carrying the Planetary Society's Cosmos 1 solar sail payload, failed because of a premature shutdown of the first-stage engine. The Volna rocket never had a chance to deploy and demonstrate solar sail propulsion technology. According to the failure review board, made up of representatives from the Makeev Rocket Design bureau, the Lavochkin Association (which built Cosmos 1), and Tsniimast, a lead engineering design center of Roskosmos, the engine stopped firing at approximately 83 seconds into the flight as a result of the degradation in the operation of the engine turbo-pump.

The review board also noted that the first and second stages never separated so the Cosmos 1 orbit insertion motor did not fire and the spacecraft did not separate from the first stage. The Volna's on-board control system automatically aborted the mission 160 seconds into flight. In all likelihood, the payload and rocket fell into the Barents Sea.


  • 234. J.M. Lenorovitz, "U.S. Entrepreneurs Seek Russian SLBMs", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 19 April 1993, p. 22-23.
  • 235. J.M. Lenorovitz, "U.S.-Russian SLBM Venture Plans Initial Test for 1994", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 3 May 1993, p. 60-61.
  • 236. "Surf Launcher Uses Recycled Missiles", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 21 June 1993, p. 62.
  • 237. "Design Begins on Russian SLBM Conversion Plan", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 2 August 1993, p.25.
  • 238. J.M. Lenorovitz, "Russian Maker of SLBMs Seeks Civilian Spin-Offsn, Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9 August 1993, pp. 48-49.
  • 239. J.M. Lenorovitz, "Payloads Sought for Former SLBMs", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 4 January 1994, p. 54.
  • 240. B. Iannotta, "Two U.S. Firms Set Sights on Sea-Launched Rockets", Space News, 29 November - 5 December 1993, p. 8.
  • Adapted from: Europe and Asia in Space 1993-1994, Nicholas Johnson and David Rodvold [Kaman Sciences / Air Force Phillips Laboratory]

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