Rockets of Today

SHAVIT (שביט) — Israel, 1988

Israel has a small rocket that they use once every few years to put up spy satellites. The name means “Comet”. It is based on a ballistic missile named Jericho. They tried to make a commercial version, which would have some parts built in the USA to satisfy import restrictions. That one had two sizes, with the larger one using a Castor 120 booster stage instead of the Jericho one, to expand its low orbit capacity of 0.8 tons. But the commercial program never got far enough to sell to customers. There is talk that they’re thinking of trying again with commercialization.

South Africa at one point licensed the Shavit tech and tried to fly their own variation of it, called the RSA-3, but gave up on it after three suborbital test launches. The whole program arose out of cooperation between Israel and Apartheid-era South Africa to build nuclear missiles, in which Israel would bring the knowhow and South Africa would supply the uranium, and take the blame for conducting nuclear bomb tests. South Africa later renounced nuclear weapons; Israel did not.

The rocket consists of three solid-fuel stages and an optional hypergolic fourth. The original Shavit had nearly identical first and second stages, then the “Shavit 1” embiggened the first, then “Shavit 2” embiggened the second to match. Unusually, they launch it westward, against the rotation of the Earth. They do this just to avoid dropping anything onto any neighbor nations who may have sensitive feelings about Israeli hardware raining down on them, or be eager to study and copy its engineering details. This increases the difficulty of reaching orbit by around ten percent.

The rival Iranian space program deals with the falling hardware problem by putting a parachute on the first stage.

Shavit 2: mass 38 t, diam 1.3 m, thrust 560 kN, imp 2.5 km/s, solid fuel, payload 0.3 t (0.8%), cost unknown, record 10/0/2 through 2023.