New test site for cruise missiles | Polarjournal
The new satellite photos show that the break is over. The activity and the new building are in line with the resumption of test flights of the nuclear-powered cruise missile “Burevestnik”. (Photo: Planet Labs)

Recent satellite images taken by Planet Labs show that Russia may be able to resume the test flights of its nuclear-powered “Burevestnik” cruise missiles. In Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle, facilities for launches could be reactivated at a facility dismantled in 2017.

The satellite image from September 2018 shows the dismantled plant of Pankovo. In the upper picture, the new facilities (circle) are clearly visible. (Photo: Planet Labs)

CNN first reported that work on the test site may have resumed, relying on satellite images from Planet Labs analyzed by researchers Michael Duitsman and Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. The location of the plant is located in: 73.084°N, 53.275°E. The activity takes place at three different locations at the Pankovo site. There are a large number of parked shipping containers at two sites, including the probable rocket handling facility.

In Pankovo on Novaya Zemlya, following the satellite images, a test facility for the “Burevestnik” cruise missile will be set up. On August 8, 2019, a violent explosion occurred in Nenoska, killing several people when a “Burevestnik” plunged into the sea. (Karte: Heiner Kubny / Google)

The work will include the reconstruction of a launch pad believed to have been used for previous rocket launches. It now appears to have been reconfigured to use the “Burevestnik” cruise missile. in a different direction. According to The Barents Observer, the missile was heading for Sukhoy Nos north of Matochkin Shar during a test in November 2017. In the past, Soviet-era nuclear tests had been conducted in this area, including the “Tsar Bomb”, the most powerful nuclear detonation ever created in the world.

In addition, a new helipad was built in the area with the storage building for probable missiles. Helicopters are a common means of transport on a test site.

With this picture of September 20, 2018 and the following we would like to document the construction progress in Pankovo. (Photo: Planet Labs)
Status of the buildings from 20 August 2020. (Photo: Planet Labs)
Only one month later, on September 18, 2020, the warehouse and assembly buildings (in a circle, blue containers) seem to have been assembled. (Photo: Planet Labs)

In addition to the appearance of shipping containers on the site, records of showed an increased presence of cargo ships in Gribowaja Bay. Although some of these activities may be related to geological investigations at the Pavlovskoe ore field, 30 km southeast of the launch site, this would explain the construction of a new launch pad.

In addition to the test near Pankovo in November 2017, Russia reportedly conducted at least three more tests of the system by February 2018. None of the tests were rated as successful.

Russia appears to have suspended tests of the nuclear-powered cruise missile after 2018, when the test site was dismantled. The tests were then transferred to Nenoksa, in the northwest Russian region of Arkhangelsk on the White Sea.

An attempt on August 8, 2019, to recover a nuclear-powered cruise missile that had crashed into the sea during an attempt at Nenoksa ended in disaster. Five Russian nuclear scientists and two members of the Russian Defense Ministry were killed in an explosion discovered by seismic stations.

“Burevestnik” is a Russian-made strategic cruise missile. The NATO code name is SSC-X-9 Skyfall. The cruise missile is still in the test phase. (Photo: Anna Liesowska)

Cruise missile “Burevestnik”

Overall, little is known about the exact design of the nuclear-powered cruise missile “Burevestnik”. However, it is believed that a nuclear-powered engine will be used. Experts fear that testing a rocket powered by a nuclear reactor could result in the release of radioactive gases into the atmosphere during flight, as the uranium core has a partially open cooling circuit. In addition, the small reactor is most likely to be smashed on impact and could release radioactivity.

According to reports, the cruise missile accelerates to optimum speed with rocket amplifications. The fast-moving air then blows over the hot reactor and exits an outlet nozzle to generate thrust.

Regardless of how it works, a fully functional “Burevestnik” – if it proves technically feasible – offers the advantage of a virtually unlimited range, which makes it extremely difficult to defend against it.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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