Russia launched a British research satellite atop a converted ballistic missile Wednesday, the first step in a project to earn much-needed cash from its aging rocket arsenal.
The converted SS-18 Satan, known as the Dnepr-1 booster rocket in its new form, blasted off from a silo at the Baikonur cosmodorme in Kazakhstan, a spokesman with Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said.
The launch was the first commercial mission for Russia's arsenal of SS-18 Satans, all of which will have to be destroyed or used for peaceful purposes if Russia ratifies the START II arms reduction treaty.
The cash-strapped government has said that its current stock of Satans are getting old and will have to be decommissioned even if it doesn't ratify START II, which has been delayed in the lower house of parliament.
The SS-18 is Russia's most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of carrying several nuclear warheads. According to the ITAR-Tass news agency, Russia has about 180 of the missiles.
Used as a booster rocket, the SS-18 can put satellites weighing up to four tons into orbit.
Russia is also converting its SS-19 Stiletto ballistic missiles into booster rockets in a bid to increase its share of the profitable market for commercial satellite launches.