Tim Furniss/LONDON

Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) has received $35 million funding from the Dresdener Bank to begin reconfiguring a launch pad and developing support equipment at Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome for the first commercial launch of the Rockot booster in late 1998, carrying three data-messaging satellites.

Dasa and Russia's Khrunichev operate the Eurockot company, which is based in Bremen, Germany, and responsible for marketing the Rockot commercially.

The company has a contract to place six data-messaging satellites into orbit on two launches, from the USA's E-Sat company. Khrunichev believes that it can conduct six commercial launches a year from Plesetsk by 1999.

The venture depends almost solely on Dasa's financial committment and nearly collapsed in 1996 when the German company could only offer $2 million initial funding. Mitsubishi of Japan markets the Rockot in Asia under contract from Eurockot.

The 28m-tall Rockot is a converted Russian SS-19 Stiletto military two-stage missile, equipped with a Breeze restartable upper stage, as well as a multiple-payload carrier, called the Dolasy, which enables two major payload structures to be carried.

The booster can carry a maximum of 1,900kg into a 400km, 63¹-inclination low-Earth orbit. An original two-stage version, called the Rokot, was flown on two successful sub-orbital missions from a silo at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 1991 and 1992 and a successful orbital flight from the Kazakhstan launch base in 1994.

Khrunichev plans to launch a Rockot from a silo at the new Svobodny space centre in far eastern Russia, possibly later this year, carrying Surrey Satellite Technology's (SSTL) UoSat.

This free launch will be to demonstrate a proposed joint venture by Khrunichev and SSTL, of Guildford in the UK to offer an SSTL-built satellite delivery service for small users (Flight International, 25 June-1 July).

Source: Flight International