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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Will We Build Svobodnyy?

Apr 95 No 4, (signed to press 28 Mar 95) pp 58-59
by Major General Valeriy Menshikov, doctor of technical sciences, and Colonel Anatoliy Kuzin, doctor of technical sciences

It is by no means a rhetorical question. It is not the first year there has been talk of establishing a second space launch facility in Amur Oblast (let us recall that for now Russia has one such installation--Plesetsk). A draft Russian Federation Presidential Edict even has been prepared about performing the priority work of constructing a new space launch facility in the vicinity of the city of Svobodnyy, but it seems full clarity has not yet set in as to its fate. The main reason is that there are no funds but plenty of problems, above all connected with the selection of a site for locating the future space launch facility and with its possible negative effect on the unique nature of the Priamurye, against which local ecologists and "greens" zealously speak out. There really are contradictions, but are they so insoluble? This is the subject of the article by Doctor of Technical Sciences Major General Valeriy Menshikov and Doctor of Technical Sciences Colonel Anatoliy Kuzin.

Today domestic spacecraft are launched from two space launch facilities--Plesetsk and Baykonur. The "Agreement Between the Russian Federation and Republic of Kazakhstan on Basic Principles and Conditions of Functioning of the Baykonur Space Launch Center," including its commercial use and international cooperation, was signed in March 1994. But for Russia's guaranteed access to outer space, i.e., independent of other states (especially important in performing defense missions), a strictly Russian space launch facility must be created in southern latitudes.

Why specifically southern? What do we lose in launching booster rockets from Plesetsk?

There are laws of ballistics according to which the energy efficiency of using means of insertion is linked closely with the geographic position of the booster rocket launch point, and specifically its latitude. This is dictated by the effect of the Earth's rotation on the velocity to which a spacecraft being inserted into orbit must be accelerated. With launches in an easterly direction, this leads to the appearance of the so-called latitude increment to booster rocket velocity.

The greater this increment, the larger the payload a booster rocket can insert into orbit. And its maximum value (on the order of 460 m/sec) is reached when the launch complex is located on the Equator. Therefore all leading world space powers attempt to locate their space launch facilities as far south as possible. Russia is no exception, and its far-eastern region is the most preferable in this sense after Kazakhstan's sovereignization. Thus, the location of a space launch facility in Amur Oblast (city of Svobodnyy, 51[DEG] north latitude) will permit minimizing losses of the latitude increment, which at Baykonur is 317 m/sec, at Plesetsk 212 m/sec and at Svobodnyy 291 m/sec. The losses are especially significant for high-energy orbits. For example, with a spacecraft's insertion into a geostationary orbit from Plesetsk, its weight has to be reduced by 22-25 percent compared with one launched from Baykonur. But this problem is considerably simpler to solve at Svobodnyy.

But ballistic effectiveness is not the only demand on a future Russian space launch facility. Another no less important one, and under today's financial and resource limitations a determining one, is the presence of developed logistic and technical support facilities and a primary infrastructure which could be used in constructing and operating a new space launch facility. This includes transportation "arteries" (highways and railroads), lines of communication, energy resources and, finally, social and cultural facilities. Natural and social-demographic factors also are of substantial importance: the distance of the booster rocket launch site from densely populated areas, seismic safety, and the number and size of impact areas for the separating booster rocket parts.

These are only the main requirements and factors considered in selecting the location of a space launch facility. They give an idea of the extent and complexity of upcoming work. A detailed analysis of alternative options was made preliminarily, and only after this did reports appear in the press about the Amur Oblast city of Svobodnyy-18 as the most probable site for establishing a Russian space launch facility (see figure). Previously a Strategic Missile Troops division with silo-based ICBM's, disbanded under the START II Treaty, was stationed there. Just this alone will permit organizing at Svobodnyy the insertion into orbit of a light class of spacecraft (up to 1.5 tonnes) using Rokot booster rockets (essentially modernized ICBM's) in short time periods (a year or two) and with minimal costs, which will support the performance of a number of defense and other missions.

An even more important argument is the possibility of deploying a heavy class of booster rockets capable of placing spacecraft into geostationary orbit. In this context it is apropos to mention the Angara advanced project for creating a heavy booster of the 21st century, oriented exclusively on the Russian scientific-technical and production base and using work done on the Zenit booster rocket and the Energiya-Buran system.

A space launch facility and ecology are a controversial issue today. Here, too, everything is not as gloomy as it appears to some protectors of nature. A comprehensive analysis was made of consequences of the use of booster rockets with toxic and nontoxic propellant components. Thus, nitrogen tetroxide is used as the oxidizer and asymmetric dimethylhydrazine as the fuel in the Rokot light class of booster rockets. Naturally, in preparing the missile for launch--during fueling, draining or thermostatting--nonstandard situations are possible where propellant components may get into the environment, but there are special measures for their recycling at space complexes. They guarantee not only a minimum of unfavorable environmental effect, but also safety of attendant personnel.

But when a booster rocket is launched (in the boost phase of insertion), combustion products of rocket propellant components are discharged into the atmosphere which do not contain toxic compounds. They cannot be compared at all with industrial discharges such as of metallurgical, coal-tar chemical, or pulp and paper enterprises. Of course, the released combustion products are capable of reducing the ozone concentration in the atmosphere along the flight path. But such an "ozone hole" closes up within an hour, and the overall "contribution" of all the world's booster rockets to ozone layer destruction is less than 10-3 percent of all anthropogenic activity and is not decisive. By the way, the negative effect on the atmosphere is enormously stronger with use of solid-propellant rocket engines such as in the U.S. Space Shuttle.

Emergency situations present the greatest danger in this respect, especially if they occur in the initial stages of the flight of booster rockets, when their tanks contain much propellant. But such accidents usually are accompanied by explosions in which the propellant self-destructs, and mopping up the aftermath reduces merely to neutralizing local spots where propellant components have gotten into the soil and collecting metal booster rocket fragments after the explosion.

Finally, about alienation of lands for impact areas of booster rocket stages (parts) that separate in flight. In this case we are talking about lands temporarily not being used for their purpose (for the period of launches). For Svobodnyy this basically consists of inaccessible, practically unpopulated sectors of terrain.

We will note that all "space" countries (United States, France, China, Japan, India and others) encounter similar problems, such as in using solid-propellant engines and boosters in the Delta, Scout, that same Space Shuttle, and other booster rockets. It is impossible not to take note of them, but it is also not worthwhile to artificially exacerbate them. Even now, measures are being developed for ecologic accompaniment of each Svobodnyy launch, including the search, collection and recycling of separating parts of booster rockets and recultivation work on alienated territories. And it is planned to use only nontoxic propellant components (liquid oxygen, hydrocarbon fuel and liquid hydrogen) which present no ecologic danger in the engine units of future booster rockets, including the aforementioned Angara complex, to prevent the negative effect of toxic substances on the environment.

The present stage of booster rocket development also is characterized by an attempt at multiple use of all their elements. An impact field for separating parts is no longer required here, since all of them (if separating elements exist at all) return to the launch point. Similar options also are being studied for the Angara booster. A comprehensive realization of all enumerated measures will permit a maximum reduction in the possible unfavorable environmental effect of the Svobodnyy space launch facility. And there are no grounds to exaggerate or speculate on this problem, as some representatives of the "green" movement attempt to do.


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