Encyclopedia Astronautica
Russian Federation Space Systems

Russian Federation Space Systems

The 13th and last Five Year Plan (1991-1995) saw vast changes brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The space forces had been reorganised in November 1988, but despite collapse of salary and budget deliveries work under the 12th Five Year Plan was completed. Most noticeably flight trials of Tselina-2 were completed and the system was accepted into the military. Flight trials of Strela-3, Molniya-1T, and Meteor-3 were conducted. Research with Resurs-F2 resources satellite and the Taifun-3 target complex went ahead, together with deployment of 40 new control systems.

Although ground tests and flight development of third generation systems had begun, there was no capital to meet the schedule established for the 1991-2000 period. Plans for countering SDI had to be abandoned. KIK Tracking stations no longer on Russian territory were abandoned, and to compensate three new tracking stations were built at Eysk, Maloyaroslavets, and Barnaul. With the break-up of the Soviet Union 75% to 90% of the space industry remained in Russia, but some unique capabilities, especially the Proton launch site, were lost.

Not all missions planned could be accomplished, and new priorities included attempts to commercialise space technology. Under the Konversiya concept space industrial facilities were to be converted to civilian use. Attempts were also made to market Soviet space technology internationally.

This was manifested as early as the launch of the Kristall module to Mir on 31 August 1990. The 19.5 tonne module carried 7 tonnes of materials processing payload and the APAS-89 docking system for use with the US space shuttle. Collaboration with the United States on the ISS International Space Station also pumped funds into Mir. Meteor-TOMS was financed by Germany. In 1990 the Chinese head of state visited Baikonur, leading to space co-operation contracts from China. On 25 February 1992 the RKA Russian Space Agency was founded as a counterpart to the US NASA Agency. Staff involved with civilian space projects were transferred to the new organisation. On 7 November 1992 the UNKS was replaced by the UK-VKS - Directorate for Command of the Military Space Forces.

The national space plan in 1992 was as follows:

  • Phase 1: By the end of 1992: Complete reorganisation of the VKS Military Space Force and its infrastructure
  • Phase 2: 1993-1995: Complete test and development of third generations systems; ensure that the interests of Russia in space were met
  • Phase 3: 1996-2000: Plan sustainable infrastructure, complete organisation of a central directorate for military-space affairs in the military forces of the Russian Federation

Continuing budget declines met that Phase 2 of the plan could not be completed.

The Russian space plan identified nearly twenty new satellite communications systems. Networks receiving federal support in addition to commercial financing included Arkos, Ekspress-M, Gals, Gonets, Mayak, Signal, and Yamal. Systems which had to secure complete commercial backing were Bankir, Ekspress, Gals, Gelikon, Globsat, Kondor, Koskon, Kuryer, Nord, Sokol, SPS-Sputnik, and Zerkalo. Of all of these only Ekspress, Mayak, Gals, and Bankir (as Kupon would reach orbit by 2001.

During 1993-1994, 27 launches involving 47 communications satellites were undertaken, or 29% of all Russian space missions. Despite one launch failure, 27 low earth orbit, 7 highly elliptical, and 12 geosynchronous spacecraft were successfully deployed. These numbers represented about half of the operational network (an acceptable 2-year turnover). But some specific constellations became increasingly populated with spacecraft operating beyond their design lifetimes. This situation was especially apparent in geosynchronous orbit. As the 1990's continued ex-Soviet communications satellite constellations would continue to degrade.

In 1996 a concept for national space policy of Russia was issued in a decree. This covered the period to 2005. 4 October was made national VKS Military Space Forces day. The plan was as follows:

  • The VKS Military Space Forces as an independent arm of the military forces.
  • Russian national Cosmodromes at Plesetsk and Svobodniy.
  • Military Training Centres at the A F Mozhaiskiy VIKA and the Petr Veliky Military Space Cadet Academy.
  • Three Major Command and Tracking Centres (OKIK).
  • Operation of Baikonur in accordance with the Russia-Kazakh treaty for commercial and military launches.
  • Consolidate reliable control of spacecraft within Russian territory.
  • Complete and publish 13 decrees of the Russian President and 25 of the Congress.
  • Accept into military service five new space systems, including three for which flight trials were already under way
  • Consolidate and improve housing, hospitals, and build a new Black Sea sanatorium for staff
  • Participate in Air Shows: Navigatsiya 92 in Moscow; Le Bourget in 1993-1995; Berlin and Farnborough in 1994; Moscow in 1994-1995

These objectives also proved unrealisable. At best only single articles of some third generation space systems could be launched. Development of Zenit pads at Plesetsk and the Svobodniy cosmodrome stalled for lack of funds.

In a scramble to attract Western investment in the financial crisis that following the break-up of the Soviet Union, many proposals were made in the 1990-1996 period for commercial use of Russian spacecraft. Market realities meant that virtually none of these were realised.

TKS derivatives were offered as earth resources and material processing platforms (Tellura, Teknologia). Military communications systems were proposed for civilian use (Gonets). Many proposals were made that took advantage of the heavy payload capability of the Energia booster. These included Multipurpose Satellite Gals, Energia Control Sat, Energia Geostationary Platform, Globis (Energia Heavy Comsat), Energia Nuclear Waste Disposal, Energia Orbital Debris Remover, Energia Ozone Replenishment Satellite, Energia Polar City Illuminator, and Skif-DM.

Renewed large scale radio astronomy and lunar and Mars exploration programs were suggested: KRT-25 Radio Telescope, Energia Lunar Base, Mars 1986, Mars 1989, Mars 1994, ERTA, and Mars Together. None of these grandiose projects went beyond the concept stage.

As the 1990's continued military and civilian satellite constellations could not be sustained. Key satellite and rocket components were only made in ex-Soviet states that wanted hard currency or high prices. No budget was available to continue programs. The unpaid workers of the space industry were however able to continue by using reserve rockets and spacecraft plus complete those units that were in the pipeline when the Soviet Union broke apart. Satellite constellations were replenished at a slow rate but kept at a minimally operational status by rearranging existing satellites.

Russian space launches meanwhile ground to a virtual halt. In July 1997 the VKS Space Force was dissolved as a separate service arm and incorporated, together with the anti-ballistic missile arm of the PVO, into the RVSN Strategic Rocket Forces.

The absolute nadir was reached in 1999, when Russia orbited only 16 satellites, one sixth the number in the last year of the Soviet Union. At the same time, lessons learned in the Kosovo conflict clearly showed the importance of space forces in modern warfare.

From this point, under the leadership of President Putin, Russian space began to revive. Launches were conducted in 2000-2001 to finally replenish military satellite constellations and return them to minimum operational levels (Glonass, Molniya-3, Orlets-2, Prognoz SPRN, Raduga-1, Strela-3, Tselina-2, US-PM, Yantar-1KFT, Yantar-4K1 and Yantar-4KS1). Development of the all-Russian Angara modular launch vehicle to finally replace earlier designs and move all Russian launch operations back to Russian territory was revived with new vigour.

As Russia entered the new millennium it was following a strategy of using existing military space systems to retain a minimum essential military space capability. Slow development of the Angara launch vehicle continued to be funded through successful commercial sales of Proton launch services and Zenit rocket engines. Secrecy in regard to new military satellite development was reimposed. The dim outlines of a modernised, lightweight, and more appropriate Russian space capability for the 2010's was emerging.

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