Consortium headed by Polyot will work with arms export agency Rosoboronexport to market the satellite launch service

The Air Launch Aerospace (ALAC) joint venture and Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport have signed a deal to market the Air Launch satellite launch service.

The agreement was signed at the Russian aerospace show MAKS 2001, which took place in Moscow on 14-19 August. It includes marketing Polyot Aviation's Antonov An-124-100s as freighters. Polyot is leading the consortium, with other participants including RSC Energia, Kuznetsov and JSC Motorostroitel.

Anatoly Karpov, head of ALAC and Polyot, says that, as Air Launch can be offered worldwide, the operation needs Rosoboronexport, which services 60 countries, as it has offices in 33 countries as well as 19 regional offices in Russia. Rosoboronexport's participation is also required if Air Launch is to be used with military payloads.

For Air Launch, the An-124s will be modified to carry the 100t launch vehicle up to 33,000-36,000ft (10,000-11,000m) for deployment. The rocket will be deployed from the freighter's rear ramp as it climbs steeply.

The two-stage launch vehicle is designed to deploy 3-4t payloads into low earth orbit and its first trials are due in 2003.The payload could be increased to 4-4.5t using the more efficient RG-1 or baptan rocket fuels instead of liquid oxygen and kerosene. Another variant could deliver 850kg (1,870lb) payloads into geostationary orbit.

ALAC predicts that air launching from an An-124 will reduce launch costs by 40-50%, with a market for up to four launches a year.

Polyot is also considering space tourism services, launching a spacecraft carrying one or two cosmonauts derived from the Soyuz crew vehicle. On a typical mission the tourist would make a single low orbit.

Air Launch and its industrial partner RSC Energia have applied to Rosaviacosmos space agency for permission to start the programme.

Source: Flight International