Friday, March 19, 2010

Buckskinner shooting writ large

Knirirr points to a BBC story about a very strange Soviet missile system being used to deliver sattelites.

The Dnepr rocket is a repurposed R-36 missile, which uses a bizarre first stage:

The R-36M is placed into its 39 m deep silo in a tubular storage/launch container. Upon launch the missile is shot out of the tube, mortar-fashion, by a piston, driven by the expansion of gases from a slow-burning black powder charge inside the piston. The missile's main engine is ignited tens of metres above the ground, preventing any damage to the internal equipment of the silo itself from the rocket engine's fiery efflux.

I don't know much about ICBM technology (don't ballistic missile subs use a "gentle" first stage to get the missiles clear of the sub?) but I'd never heard of an intercontinental missile being launched out of a gigantic black powder musket. The Beeb article links to a great Youtube video:

While most of the rocket's lost in the massive plume of smoke from the "muzzle", you can see the head slow almost to a stop before the next stage kicks in.

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