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RSA-3 - RSA-3 South African space launcher

Credit: © Mark Wade. 6,855 bytes. 66 x 480 pixels.

Family: RSA. Country: South Africa. Status: Development.

The RSA-3 satellite launcher began development as an IRBM in the 1980's because of the perceived Soviet threat and isolation of South Africa. It was developed with the assistance of Israel and is believed to be essentially identical to the Israeli Jericho missile/Shavit launch vehicle. The objective of the satellite launcher was to place a small surveillance satellite of 330 kg mass into a 41 degree, 212 x 460 km orbit around the earth. Development continued even after South African renunciation of its nuclear weapons. However the launcher was found not to be viable commercially and so was cancelled in mid-1994. The RSA-3 was developed by the Houwteq organisation at Grabouw, 30 km east of Cape Town. The Overberg Test Range near Bredasdorp, 200 km east of Cape Town, was used for test flights. The engine test facility was at Rooi Els. At the peak of development in 1992 50 - 70 companies in the public and private sector were involved, employing 1300 -1500 people.

As in the Shavit, the first and second stages used the same rocket motor loaded with 9 tonnes of propellant. The first stage used vanes in the exhaust for steering during the first 16 to 20 seconds of flight, after which the fins at the base of the vehicle provided aerodynamic control. The second stage had a higher expansion nozzle and may have been equipped with TVC for steering. Atop the second stage was a guidance / orientation / spin-up bus for the third stage and payload. Total mass of this bus and the payload shroud was 583 kg. After second stage burnout, the upper stage package entered a 148 second ballistic coast. A sideways trajectory deflection was made and the shroud was jettisoned. Then the third stage and payload were spun up, following by separation of the bus. The spin-stabilised third stage then made the 4,555 m/s burn to place the payload into orbit. The third stage was evidently similar to a 5 tonne thrust spherical motor displayed by the Israelis for their Shavit launch vehicle.

The composite payload fairing for the RSA-3 was 4.5 m long, 1.3 m in diameter, and had a mass of 57 kg. The solar array for the satellite had a mass of under 7 kg and with three panels could supply 295 W of power. The fairing could resist temperatures of up to + 100 degrees C during ascent and the thermal satellite blanket insulated the payload from temperatures ranging from -80 degrees C to + 100 degrees C.

As an ICBM, it is estimated that the three-stage version of the RSA-3 could have delivered a 340 kg warhead on Washington DC or a 400 kg warhead on Moscow. However such lightweight warheads were beyond declared South African technology. Therefore the RSA-3 was most likely purely a space launch adaptation of the RSA-2 IRBM, with the Peacekeeper-class RSA-4 fullfilling the ICBM role.

The RSA-3 and its mobile erector-launcher were in an advanced stage of test at the time the program was cancelled. It is not known what happened to the hardware that was built. Warheads of the size and type required for use on the RSA-3 were not in the inventory according to the declarations made by South Africa at the time of its nuclear disarmament and signature of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The RSA-4, was in the design stage.

The following is the detailed launch trajectory of the RSA-3:

Event Time from Launch -sec Height -km Slant Range - km Vehicle Mass - kg Velocity - m/s
Ignition 0.0 0.0 0.0 23,564 0
Separation Stages 1/2 54.9 12.8 8.4 13,349 575
Separation Stages 2/3 140.0 104.3 179.8 2,961 3,225
Bus maneuver and shroud ejection 172.0 140.0 272.0 0 3,116
Ignition of Apogee Kick Motor 248.0 196.5 489.0 2,378 2,945
Burnout of AKM 342.0 210.0 914.0 0 7,498
Separation of Payload 460.0 212.0 1806.0 330 7,500

RSA-3 Aft ViewRSA-3 Aft View - Rear view of the RSA-3, showing the exhaust vanes and details of its erector-launcher.

Credit: Steven McQuillan. 18,500 bytes. 153 x 88 pixels.


LEO Payload: 330 kg. to: 210 km Orbit. at: 41.0 degrees. Liftoff Thrust: 42,080 kgf. Total Mass: 23,630 kg. Core Diameter: 1.3 m. Total Length: 17.6 m.

RSA-3 Chronology

- 1994 June -


RSA-3 Aft ViewRSA-3 Aft View - Aft view of the RSA-3. Note the small first stage fins.

29,634 bytes. 321 x 360 pixels.

RSA-3 InterstageRSA-3 Interstage - Closeup of the RSA-3 interstage section.

Credit: Steven McQuillan. 10,953 bytes. 102 x 69 pixels.

RSA-3 InterstageRSA-3 Interstage - View of RSA-3 forward interstage and payload sections.

16,928 bytes. 380 x 219 pixels.

RSA-3 in PretoriaRSA-3 in Pretoria - RSA-3 satellite launcher / long range missile at the A.F. Museum, Pretoria.

14,773 bytes. 186 x 286 pixels.

RSA-3 TELRSA-3 TEL - Detail of the RSA-3 transporter-erector-launcher.

Credit: Steven McQuillan. 11,609 bytes. 98 x 67 pixels.

RSA-3 AKMRSA-3 AKM - Closeup showing the spherical Apogee Kick Motor third stage of the RSA-3.

Credit: Steven McQuillan. 11,263 bytes. 70 x 95 pixels.

RSA-3 Forward ViewRSA-3 Forward View - Forward view of the RSA-3 at the Air Force Museum, Pretoria.

Credit: Steven McQuillan. 12,828 bytes. 100 x 70 pixels.

RSA-3 Forward ViewRSA-3 Forward View - Forward section of the RSA-3; cut-outs reveal the Apogee Kick Motor third stage and the satellite within the payload shroud.

Credit: Steven McQuillan. 11,742 bytes. 103 x 69 pixels.

RSA-3 Engine TestRSA-3 Engine Test - Technicians prepare RSA-3 stage in the test stand.

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RSA-3 - base detailRSA-3 - base detail - RSA-3 - detail of rocket base, side view

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RSA-3 - stage detailRSA-3 - stage detail - RSA-3 - closeup of rocket in transporter

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RSA-3 - stage detailRSA-3 - stage detail - RSA-3 - detail of first stage base and rocket nozzle

28,808 bytes. 338 x 317 pixels.

RSA-3 - stage detailRSA-3 - stage detail - RSA-3 - closeup of rocket in transporter

15,791 bytes. 339 x 278 pixels.

RSA-3 - base detailRSA-3 - base detail - RSA-3 - detail of rocket base, side view

12,106 bytes. 313 x 199 pixels.

RSA-3 - payloadRSA-3 - payload - RSA-3 - satellite payload and kick stage

29,053 bytes. 222 x 327 pixels.

RSA-3 - launch photoRSA-3 - launch photo

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RSA-3 - nose detailRSA-3 - nose detail - RSA-3 - detail of nose cone

9,078 bytes. 367 x 194 pixels.

RSA-1 , -2, -3, -4RSA-1 , -2, -3, -4

12,494 bytes. 232 x 349 pixels.

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Last update 12 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .