A Booster Blazing A Path Of Its Own

The Zenit rocket is a medium sized Soviet-era launch vehicle with the boosters built in Ukraine that was originally designed as a strap-on booster for the Energia-Buran launch system and separate payload launcher greater than the Soyuz, but less than the Proton. During the 2000’s Zenit saw extensive use by Sea Launch which uses a 3-stage version to launch satellites from their offshore platform in the Pacific on the equator.

Interesting Facts On The Zenit Booster Launchers!

  • Originally the Zenit was designed to one of four first stage strap-on boosters to the core stage of the Energia Buran carrier rocket. This would act to provide additional thrust similar to the role the Solid Rocket Boosters did for the US Space Shuttle System.
  • The Zenit had the potential to be the manned launched vehicle but the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991made this impossible.
  • Following the break-up of the Soviet Union Zenit launches slowed due to the economic woes of the new Russian Federation in the 1990s.
  • During the 2000s though, Zenit would be put to work as part of a radical international Sea Launch project whereby a former drilling platform would conduct commercial satellite launches offshore in the Pacific Ocean on the equator!
  • A new, modernized, version called the Zenit-3SL with engines and avionics are supplied by Russia with 32 successes from 36 launches and three failures (one partial success).
  • The failure which occurred in January 2007 was particularly dramatic as shortly after lift-off the Zenit rocket exploded on the Odyssey launch platform (see in Rocket Failures page) causing extensive damage and destroying the communication satellite.
  • Another failure in 2013 and political tensions between Ukraine and Russia who are partners in Sea Launch, has meant that the commercial future of the partnership is uncertain.
  • The market for Zenit launches has dried up since Sea Launch put a freeze on launch activities and facing completion from new launch vehicles (such as the Falcon 9) so the future of the Zenit isn’t positive.
 
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