A submarine rocket launch in Russia could point the way to a new means of getting rid of Cold war weaponry that brings in a profit instead of costing money.
Scientists from the Technical University in Berlin and the Russian state rocket centre in Miass last week employed a submarine to launch an SSN23 rocket that carried two satellites into space, instead of delivering a nuclear warhead to the other side of the world.
Max Meerman at Surrey University's space centre said this was the first launch of its type.
The project proved successful later on launch day when the Berlin researchers received the first signals from one of the satellites. And it cost only $500,000 -far less than a commercial launcher company would charge.
Using a missile-launching submarine makes possible launches at almost any latitude and in any weather conditions. Meerman, who investigated the system two years ago, says the success will result in relatively low prices for further launches and is especially interesting for equatorial orbits. Possible uses would be observation of tropical rainforests for fires, the supervision of fishing rights and the installation of small telecommunications satellites by equatorial countries.
A low orbit at this latitude, which is difficult to achieve with other systems that cannot launch from the equator itself, would cut the present waiting time for a satellite to pass over an area near the equator from more than six hours to 90 minutes.
The maximum payload the rocket can carry is only 350kg. Despite this, Paul Murdin, director of science at the British National Space Centre, believes there will be a lot of interest from scientists and others in the launch of small satellites. "The Russians have been looking to satisfy this demand," he said.
Meerman estimates that about 200 rockets of the launch type would be available.
There have been just over 100 Ariane launches to date. Ariane has a facility for launching small satellites alongside large telecommunications satellites.