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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West may buy converted SS-20s

Soviet weapons of mass destruction could soon be put to commercial use by firms of the very Western countries that were once their target.

Under a project sponsored by the Russian government, the aerospace research institute Complex plans to convert nuclear missiles arid launching systems into commercial satellite launchers. Directors of the project, codenamed Start, say they will test-fly their refashioned satellite carriers in December and hope to break into the world market next year.

Complex began the Start project over two years ago as a way of utilizing nuclear weapons that had been removed from the field under arms reductions agreements. Researchers 'discovered that SS-20 rockets and SS-25 Start launching systems could be used to put small satellites into low-orbit for costs much less than the world market price of $60 million to $80 million per launch.

Yuri Solomonov, director of Complex, said at the official presentation of Start that he plans to offer the same service for $7 million to $10 million.

Solomonov said market studies showed that at these rates, Complex will receive over 300 orders by the year 2000. He also said Start's low cost had attracted the attention of the company, American Iridium, which plans to launch 77 low-orbit telecommunications satellites for a worldwide telephone network.

"The Americans had originally planned to use their Delta and Pegasus rockets for this project", Solomonov told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "Now that they have heard about our project, they are saying 'we will use the cheapest carrier'".

After two years of trying to get funding for a project viewed suspiciously by xenophobic hardliners in

the Soviet government, the Start project got a boost after the failed August putsch when it was approved by First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar.

Start also received funding from IVK, a defense electronics concern. Sergei Zinchenko, resident of IVK,

told Komsomolskaya Pravda that he expects the project to be self-financing after the first few commercial launches, which he expects to begin in 1993.

Despite such optimistic forecasts, private space industry is something the government - which holds a 20 percent share of the project - is taking one step at a time.

Both Solomonov and Zinchenko say that Start will first target the domestic market, although it is not clear who among Russia's exchange? tycoons and bankrupt research institutes is ready to invest in commercial satellite launches.

And although the directors of Start hope for large scale participation on the international market, for now all contact with foreign companies is being directed - with caution - by the government.