In the answer to this question it is claimed that 'Submarines often launch orbital vehicles'.

Is this correct? What would they be launching?

I was under the impression that only military submarines launched anything to space, and that ICBMs were strictly sub-orbital and that their test launches were infrequent. I suppose this leads to the question of 'what is frequent', but I'm not going to define that.


The Russians, mostly were reselling ICBM launchers as space payloads. The US never really did much of this.

The Volna and Shtil boosters are converted ICBM's launched from subs. They are pretty cheap to buy, but are mostly phased out and not in use these days.

To the point about ICBM's usually being suborbital and yet they can be used for orbital missions, it is worth noting that the Soyuz booster is the direct descendant of the R-7 ICBM. The Russians (Soviets at the time I guess) had trouble miniaturizing the nuclear warheads, so their boosters were much bigger than the US equivalents to compensate.

Thus when it came time to convert an ICBM to a orbital booster by adding an upper stage, they had the performance to meet the need.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Were these launches conducted from subs? $\endgroup$ – OrangePeel52 Sep 7 '16 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ According to the WP pages for Volna and Shtil', yes. (Geoff, you might want to link them.) $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Sep 7 '16 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ WP claims submarine launch from the Barents Sea gives more flexibility in launch inclination, but that seems weird; high inclination launches from Baikonur don't risk overflight of other countries. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Sep 7 '16 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ I count a grand total of 7 orbital launches from submarines. That's not enough to qualify as "often", IMO. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Sep 8 '16 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ It isnt really often in my book either, but by being commercial launches it crosses the barrier from ICBM practice (which is sub orbital any way) to at least subs launching orbital vehicles being possible. $\endgroup$ – OrangePeel52 Sep 8 '16 at 14:09

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