Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Launch Rocket Plan On Target

A Russian company planning to launch satellites into space on rockets parachuted from the world's largest cargo plane has said it would be ready for its first blast off in three years.

The project has been developed by Air Launch Corp. and a dozen other companies in Russia and Ukraine. It involves loading a rocket onto a huge An-124-AL Ruslan cargo plane, and then parachuting it out of the plane so that its engines automatically blast it into space.

"According to our business plan, the first launch will be in 2003," Anatoly Karpov, chief executive of Russian cargo airline Polyot, said Monday. "A few years after that we could be making five to eight launches a week."

Polyot is working with other firms including Energiya, the builder of the Mir space station, and Ukraine's Antonov design bureau.

A modified An-124-AL would launch nonmilitary payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons, and the satellites would be on two-stage Progress rockets, launched from an altitude of 10 to 11 kilometers.

Karpov said work on the project, which started in 1997, was progressing steadily and foresaw the corporation potentially controlling up to 40 percent of the commercial air launch market.

Karpov said Air Launch would charge $5,000 to $6,000 per kilogram, far below the $25,000 to $30,000 demanded for standard launches or the $7,000 to $9,000 by Sea Launch, a multinational consortium that has U.S. Boeing Corp. as a leading partner.

Karpov said Air Launch's only current competition in the niche was Boeing, which announced in March that it was developing a program using modified 747-400F jumbo jets.