The Makeyev Design Bureau and State Rocket Center, located in the Chelyabinsk region of the Russian Federation, is trying to market space launch versions of its former submarine launched ballistic missiles. Beginning in 1991 Makeyev began launching RSM-50 (NATO designator SS-N-18) missiles from Delta IV submarines on short ballistic flights for commercial customers. Launches take place near Murmansk and are recovered near the Kamchatka peninsula.
Eventually, Makeyev hopes to introduce the liquid-propellant RSM-50 Volna and RSM-40 (NATO designator SS-N-8) Vysota space launch vehicles. The former, launched from either a Delta-III or Delta-IV submarine, could carry payloads into LEO of up to 115 kg from equatorial sites. The Delta-I launched Vysota has about the same payload capacity but offers a smaller payload volume: 0.7 m3 compared to 1.3 m3 for Volna. The Shtil-1N, based on the liquid-fuel RSM-54 (NATO designator SS-N-23), could begin orbital flights with payloads of up to 510 kg in 1995 from the Severkosmos ground facilities at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The larger Shtil-3N would have an increased payload of 950 kg (References 229-233). The German Tubsat was launched on 07 July 1998 from a Russian Delta 4-class submarine. The sub, the Novomoskovsk was north of Murmansk at the time of launch. The submarine was submerged during the launch, which is its normal mode of operation for combat firing. However this mode of space launch has a very limited commercial application. Avantages of mobile launch platform are to major extent inhibited by necesity to use instrumented downrange track. Thus, instead of launching "from anywhere in the global ocean", subs would have to stick to their currently used firing ranges (i.e. Barents Sea or Sea of Okhotsk, in case of Russia). Coordination with the military for launching from an operational sub will be difficult. Apparently, this is much more difficult, than launching from a ground-based missile test range, where active military sites could be somehow separated from commercial.
Moreover, sticking to subs as launch platforms deters upgrading of SLBMs for greater efficiency in SLV mode. If the launcher is hosted on military sub, you can not increase payload fairing or put up an extra kick stage. On the contrary, all that could be most easily done on ground-based facility, which is used for test firing of SLBMs before putting them onto subs. The bottom line is that SLBMs appear more promising as baseline rockets to be converted into light-weight SLVs rather than immediate launchers with "flexible" launch site and path.
Comparison with Sea Launch is complicated by the fact, that the former features medium-to-large launcher and targets market of geosynchronous satellites. SLBMs could only compete in light-weight LEO segment of launch services market. So far there appears to be already an overcapacily in small launchers. Moreover, stacking numerous payloads on bigger rockets and piggy-backing on bigger satellites would probably also accomodate a greater portion of presumably increasing number of small payloads.
During 1993 the Makeyev Design Bureauand American investors examined the possibility to creating a new launch vehicle based on the RSM-54 and the RSM-52 (NATO designator SS-N-20). Called Surf, the launch vehicle would use the first stage of the RSM-52 solid-propellant booster topped with the four stages of the RSM-54. Rather than employing submarine or ground-level launch platforms, Surf would be launched in a floating condition on the surface of the sea and would provide a LEO payload capacity of 2.4 metric tons (References 234-240).