The Russian Government has given the go-ahead for a project that will use the Antonov An-124 Ruslan freighter to launch a lightweight booster.

The proposal, put forward by a joint team led by the Russian Space Agency and the Ministry of Defence, involves modernising four An-124s.

A two-stage booster known as the Vozdushny Start would be capable of placing satellites weighing up to 2t into a 200km-high orbit. The plan is to equip the booster with an Energomash RD-0143 rocket engine burning liquid natural gas and oxygen.

Capital investment in the project is estimated at $150-170 million, and the Russian Government order opens the way for the issuing of state guarantees for subsequent bank loans, although Russia's financial health leaves doubts about foreign investors' participation in the project. During the Soviet era, designers investigated launching intercontinental ballistic missiles from the An-124, but the project did not survive.

Source: Flight International