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Molniya Launch Vehicle

The Molniya-M launch vehicle essentially consists of a basic Soyuz launch vehicle with an additional third stage. Like the lower stages, this third stage is powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene via a 11 D33 main engine. Originally developed for lunar and planetary missions beginning in 1960, the Molniya-M is now used to place payloads of 1.6-1.8 metric tons into highly elliptical (~400 km by 40,000 km) Earthorbits inclined 63 degrees to the equator. The upperstage and the payloads (normally a Molnlya communications or Kosmos early warning satellite) are encased within the launch shroud and subsequently placed into a low altitude parking orbit by the lower stages. About half a revolution of the Earth later, the third stage is ignited for transfer into the elliptical orbit. During 1993-1994 eleven Molniya-M launch vehicles performed flawlessly, bringing the overall reliability to about 89% after nearly 300 missions. Molniya-M vehicles can be launched from either Baikonur or Plesetsk, but since 1990 the boosters have only operated from Plesetsk (Reference 254). For several years, a modification of the Molniya-M launch vehicle has been under consideration. The third stage would be replaced by a new Fregat stage which is derived from the main propulsion unit of the Phobos interplanetary spacecraft developed by the Lavochkin Scientific Production Association and launched in 1988. Tentatively designated Molnlya-A, this launch vehicle would be capable of placing 5.4 metric tons into a sun-synchronous orbit. Introduction of the Molniya-A could come as early as 1996 (References 255-258).


Background Information
First Launch:
February 1961
Flight Rate:
12 per year (maximum recorded launch rate)
Launch Site:
Plesetsk and Baikonur, Russia
3,564 lb lunar delivery trajectory;
2,596 lb Venus delivery trajectory;
2,090 lb Mars delivery trajectory


  • Developed from the Vostok and Soyuz launch vehicles originally derived from the SS-6 ICBM
  • Includes a third stage for high-energy interplanetary missions
  • Used to launch many of the former Soviet Unionís early interplanetary space probes


  • Three-stage liquid fueled vehicle
  • Stage 1 core has one RD-108 booster engine (one turbopump with four separate combustion chambers) burning LO2/kerosene propellant fed from stage 1 tanks, generating 167,000 lb of thrust
  • Stage 1 strap-ons each have one RD-107 engine (one turbopump with four separate combustion chambers) burning LO2/kerosene propellant fed from stage 1 tank, generating a total of 740,000 lb of thrust
  • Stage 2 has one RD-461 engine burning LO2/kerosene, generating 67,000 lb of thrust
  • Stage 3 engine burns LO2/kerosene, generating 15,000 lb of thrust


138 ft
Launch Weight:
683,000 lb
8.9 ft
Liftoff Thrust:
907,000 lb
Payload Fairing:
12.1 ft x 7.6 ft


Sources and Resources

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