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Russia Launches What Might Be First Eco-Friendly Space Weapon

Though less toxic to stratosphere, the Angara-A5 still potentially lethal to Putin’s enemies.

Image via Twitter user Anatoly Zak (@RussianSpaceWeb)

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin watched from the Kremlin (via live feed) as his country’s newest rocket, the eco-friendly Angara-A5, successfully launched into space. The first rocket entirely designed and built within post-Soviet Russia’s borders, the Angara has been in development since the 1990s, plagued by botched launch attempts and numerous delays. Its success signifies a new chapter for Russia’s space program, decreasing the country’s dependency on foreign rocket technology.

This new rocket is one of just a few designed with the environment in mind, running on a fuel blend of kerosene and liquid oxygen in lieu of heptyl, a highly toxic substance. A 2009 paper attributed one percent of total human-caused ozone depletion to rocket launches. It may not sound like much, but rockets have a habit of unloading noxious substances directly into the stratosphere, where devastation is immediate.

The Angara will replace the 40-year-old Soyuz rocket, which, since the the United States retired its space shuttles, is the only vehicle in the world capable of delivering astronauts—including Americans—to the International Space Station (I.S.S.). Despite current chilly relations between the United States and Russia, the two countries are inseparable when it comes to the I.S.S., scheduled to be operational through 2024. With both the United States and Russia topping the list of global warming’s worst offenders, the Angara seems like good news.

Yet, like a lot of other spacecraft, the Angara employs “dual use” technologies—meaning, it’s not just a means of getting space crews from point A to B; it’s also a weapon. Praising Angara among his counterparts in the controversial Collective Security Treaty Organization, Putin stated, “The rocket will be used for both economic needs and, naturally, for strengthening Russia’s defenses and, consequently, of all CSTO member-states.” He also said that the environmentally friendly rocket would prove crucial for “the system of early warning of missile attacks, reconnaissance, navigation, communication, and re-transmission of signals for defense purposes.”

Now that Russia has its own rocket technology, the country has secured independent access to the wilds of space, even after America and other countries stop cooperating with Russia in the field of space exploration. Michael Listner, founder of the consulting group Space Law and Policy Solutions, has said that any space object can be used for good or ill. “If you can bring new fuel to a satellite, you could also go up and do bad things to other satellites: move them, eavesdrop on all the data, change the purpose of their satellite, or grab and deorbit it.”

The first manned flight of the Angara-A5 is set for 2018, to be launched from the cosmodrome in Vostochny.

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