Those formerly on either side of the Iron Curtain can now admit that the Cold War had its plusses and minuses. The key minus, of course, is that the United States and the Soviet Union constructed enough nuclear devices to destroy the world many times over. After relations began to improve between the two nations (i.e. the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War ended, and a lot of people started sleeping better), nuclear disarmament became a hot-button issue. I can't find reliable figures regarding the number of missiles and warheads disarmed during and after the Cold War, but I imagine they number(ed) in the thousands. Once they were no longer suited for their original purpose, however, something had to have been done with the missiles. My question, in essence, boils down to this:

Were any former missiles repurposed for peaceful space transportation?

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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer to your question, but you should know that there were, and are, not enough nuclear devices to even destroy the world (or the people in it) once, let alone many times over. $\endgroup$
    – Ariel
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ Another plus was that the nukes ultimately brought us peace (mostly). At least up to now... $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ Not strictly an ICBM, but the Russian submarine based SCBM Shtil has launched payloads to orbit. I think that now in 2017 the ban on using US ICBM's for launching to orbit will expire, if not renewed. I'm not into the politics of it, but it could be worth looking up on the topic. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


Yes, definitely. For example:

  • Taurus, now Minotaur-C first stage (US, Orbital Sciences Corporation), based on Peacekeeper ICBM first stage. 9 launches since 1994, out of which 3 failures.
  • Minotaur I (US, Orbital Sciences Corporation), repurposed Minuteman missile with M55A1 first stage and SR19 second stage. 11 launches since 2000, all successful.
  • Minotaur II a.k.a. Chimera (US, Orbital Sciences Corporation), consist of the M55A1 first stage and SR19AJ1 second stage of a decommissioned Minuteman missile, now serves as long range suborbital launch vehicle. 8 launches since 2000, all successful.
  • Minotaur III (US, Orbital Sciences Corporation), based on SR-118 first stage, SR-119 second stage and SR-120 third stage of the LGM-118 Peacekeeper ICBM. No launches yet.
  • Minotaur IV (US, Orbital Sciences Corporation) is also based on the first three stages of LGM-118 Peacekeeper ICBM. 5 successful launches since 2010.
  • Minotaur V (US, Orbital Sciences Corporation), also based on the first three stages of LGM-118 Peacekeeper ICBM. Launched LADEE on her maiden flight.
  • Conceptual Minotaur VI is based on the Minotaur IV+, using an additional SR-118 first stage.
  • Start-1 (Russia, Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology) is a launch vehicle derived from first three stages of RT-2PM Topol ICBM. 6 launches since 1993.
  • Start (Russia, Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology) is a five stage variant of Start-1 and uses another RT-2PM Topol second stage. Its so far single launch in 1995 was a failure.
  • Strela (Russia, NPO Mashinostroyeniya, JSC "Khartron") is orbital launch vehicle derived from the Soviet/Russian UR-100NU ICBM missile. It launched Kondor radar imaging satellite for the Russian military in June 2013 and is scheduled to launch another one this December 18, 2014.
  • Rockot (Russia / Europe, Eurockot Launch Services owned by EADS Astrium and Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center), like Strela, is also a derivative of the UR-100N ICBM missile. It made 25 launches, 2 of them were failures.
  • Not based on ICBM but a ballistic missile nonetheless, Shavit (Israel, Republic of South Africa) some variants in this family of launch vehicles are based on first two stages of the Jericho II ballistic missile.

And I'm sure this list isn't complete and many other families of launch vehicles were either designed to serve dual purpose - as ICBM as well as orbital or suborbital launch vehicles, or smaller elements of them were later repurposed for peaceful use, such as e.g. stage engines, avionics, and so on.

Missile silos can also be repurposed for peaceful purposes, and it's been contemplated to even repurpose some ballistic missile interceptors as humanitarian relief missiles delivering urgent supplies fast to disaster zones. Though basic idea behind it isn't anything new in terms of repurposing military air and space vehicles for philanthropic causes, using ballistic missiles to reach distant zones in distress to help instead of cause additional havoc is a rather novel concept.


There are also the Dnepr-1 rockets, made from converted R-36 missiles. One that launched in June 2014 delivered a payload of 37 satellites, making it the current record-holder for most satellites delivered in one launch.

Elon Musk likes to tell the story of going to Russia to buy ICBMs when he was first thinking of getting into a space project - that's how he puts it, he never mentions that they were already converted, and has at least once joked that he felt like the sellers might have been willing to sell the warheads too if he'd tried. That was the beginnings of SpaceX.


Converting old ICBMs for space exploration is hardly a new thing. Many of the retired SM-65 Atlas missiles were re-purposed as the first stages of a wide variety of orbital launch vehicles. The SM-68 Titan was similarly converted, but in smaller numbers.


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