Tim Furniss/LONDON

The first commercial launch of the Dnepr, a former SS-18K ballistic missile, will be made from a silo at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan between 21 and 25 April. The launcher is operated by ISC Kosmotras, a consortium of 20 Russian and Ukrainian companies.

The 37.3m-high Dnepr booster will carry Surrey Satellite Technology's (SSTL) first 350kg Minisatellite series spacecraft, called the UoSAT 12.

The demonstration launch is being made at a "competitive price" which SSTL is unwilling to reveal. The UK-based space company has previously flown three smaller microsatellites on Russian Tsyklon and Zenit boosters. SSTL says: "We are looking forward to continued co-operation with Kosmotras" for further launches.

The UoSAT 12 is aimed at demonstrating advanced low-earth orbit digital communications and high-resolution multispectral earth-observation payloads, with novel propulsion, attitude control and navigation experiments.

The Dnepr, developed by NPO Yuzhnoye of the Ukraine, is based on the R-36M2 ballistic missile. The missile has made 157 launches with a 99% success rate. More than 100 redundant missiles are available to Kosmotras.

The three-stage liquid-propellant missile can place 950kg into low-earth orbit (LEO), but, with a new upper stage, such as the Fregat, it could carry about 4,400kg into LEO.

US company Teledesic, is considering launches for its 204-840 satellite constellation.

Meanwhile, Russia's Polyot organisation has formed a company, called Air Launch, to perform satellite deliveries from an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft.

It is seeking international partners for the venture, which will provide transportation of 1,200kg payloads to 200km orbit for $5,000 per kilogramme. The design of the booster has not been finalised and bids are expected to be lodged by the Energia, Khrunichev and Makeyev companies.

Source: Flight International