Russia Launches Two Military Satellites
Russia closed out 1999 with a pair of launches of military
satellites during the last week of December.
A Ukrainian-built Tsyklon-2 lifted off Sunday, December 26
from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to the Itar-TASS
press agency. No exact time of launch was given, but news reports
indicated that the launch was a success.
The launch was planned for several days earlier, but was
postponed by weather and technical problems. The payload was only
reported to be a military satellite, Kosmos 2367. Outside experts
believe the satellite is a new EORSAT naval reconnaissance satellite,
designed to locate and track naval fleets by monitoring radio, radar,
and other electromagnetic emissions.
A four-stage Molniya-M booster lifted off at 2:12 pm EST (1912
UT) December 28 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia.
Russian officials identified the satellite only as Kosmos 2368.
The satellite is believed to be a reconnaissance satellite of
the Oko class, designed to provide early warning of missile launches.
Such satellites have been launched in the past by Molniya boosters
from Plesetsk and placed into highly elliptical orbits with perigees
of less than 1,000 km (620 mi.) and apogees of nearly 40,000 km (24,
Space News reported in its December 20 issue that the Oko
satellite launch would help fill a critical gap in Russian
surveillance of American missile sites. Starting in 1997 a lack of
functioning satellites meant that there were gaps of as long as seven
hours a day in Russia's coverage of American sites.
A Zenit-2 booster was also planned to launch a Tselina signals
intelligence satellite in late December. Space News reported that
this launch was planned for December 20 to 23, but there has been no
news about this launch, just as there was no advance word about the
Tsyklon or Molniya launches.
Mir's Fate in 2000 Remains Uncertain
The fate of the dormant Russian space station Mir in the year
2000 remains uncertain as corporations and the Russian government
debate whether to deorbit or restore the station.
That uncertainty may be exacerbated by the surprise
resignation Friday of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who will be
replaced on an interim basis by prime minister Vladimir Putin until
elections are held in early 2000.
Two plans have been reportedly drawn up for Mir in the year
2000. One plan, endorsed by the Russian Aviation and Space Agency
(formerly the Russian Space Agency and known by its Russian acronym
RAKA), would deorbit the station at the end of June.
The RAKA plan would include one final manned mission to Mir, a
two-month stay by Russian cosmonauts starting in late April and ending
just before the station is deorbited over the Pacific Ocean. Two
unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft would also be launched in January
and May to help deorbit the station.
A second plan, endorsed by Energia, the company that operates
Mir for RAKA, would keep the station in orbit throughout the year
2000. This plan would also include sending a crew to Mir in late
April, but in this case the crew would remain on Mir for six months
until relieved by a second crew launched in October. Four Progress
cargo spacecraft would be launched to Mir during the year, although in
this plan none would be used to deorbit the station.
Money, or the lack thereof, is likely to be the deciding
factor. RAKA officials have argued that the agency needs to deorbit
the station as soon as possible to concentrate its limited resources
on the International Space Station and satellite launches.
The Russian legislature, the Duma, appropriated 4.8 billion
rubles (US$175 million) for RAKA for the coming year. However, the
Duma specifically instructed the agency to spend nearly a third of it
-- 1.5 billion rubles (US$54.5 million) — to keep Mir operational.
RAKA officials have countered that it needs every ruble of its budget
for other projects.
Energia has been actively seeking Western investors who could
provide the money to keep Mir in orbit without the need of government
funding. The company is reportedly studying attaching a tether
designed by an American company to the station to keep the station in
orbit without the need of conventional reboost techniques.
A wild card in all of these plans will be the Russian
presidential election in early 2000. That election was triggered by
the surprise resignation December 31 of Boris Yeltsin, who had been
president of Russia since 1991.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will serve as the interim
president in Yeltsin's place until a presidential election is held by
the end of March. Putin, who has been popular with the Russian people
since becoming prime minister in August, would be the leading
candidate in that election.
Putin's handling of the renewed war with rebels in the
breakaway republic of Chechnya has tapped into a vein of nationalism
in Russia and boosted his popularity, leading some to speculate that
Putin may be more open to proposals to keep Mir in orbit than recent
Proton Launches Planned for February
With an inspection into two failures in the last four launches
nearly complete, Russia will return the Proton booster to service by
mid-February, International Launch Services reported in late December.
The company, which markets the Proton booster to Western
markets, said that a final report into the cause of the October 27
Proton accident, the second in less than four months, should be
released before Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
The company did not discuss what the cause of the October
accident was, but earlier reports said it appeared to be similar to
the July 5 accident. That failure was blamed on a faulty weld in a
turbopump, which caused an explosion that destroyed the second stage
of the booster, causing it and its payload to crash to earth in
New second-stage engines for the Proton are currently being
tested, and should be ready by the end of the year, ILS said in a
That would clear the way for returning the Proton to service
with a launch tentatively planned for mid-February. A Russian
government payload should be ready for launch at that time, ILS said,
although it was not clear whether that would launch before or after a
commercial payload, the ACeS Garuda-1 communications satellite.
When the Proton returned to service in September after the
July accident, it was first used to launch a pair of domestic
communications satellites before launching a Western communications
satellite later in the month.
Not mentioned in the ILS statement is the status of arguably
the Proton's most important payload in recent times, the Zvezda
service module for the International Space Station. That launch was
previously scheduled for late December to early January when the
Proton was grounded after the October accident.
Russian officials have previously said Zvezda would not launch
before mid-February, although they claimed it was delays on the
American side, and not problems with the Proton, that forced the
delay. However, with government and commercial payloads being planned
for launch in February, it appears unlikely that Zvezda would launch
Rokot Booster Damaged in Accident
A Russian booster undergoing preparations for a January launch
was damaged earlier this month, Russian sources reported.
A Rokot booster, a modified version of an SS-19 ICBM, was
being prepped for a late January launch of a Russian military
satellite from Plesetsk when pyrotechnic charges designed to separate
the three stages of the booster accidentally fired.
The explosive charges reportedly caused the nose cone, the
Briz-K upper stage, and its satellite payload to fall from the
booster. The extent of the damage to the rocket and satellite were
The Russian aerospace company Khrunichev blamed the accident
on the failure of a "countdown graph" during launch preparations
December 22, according to the Interfax news agency, although other
sources said the incident took place two days later. Khrunichev plans
to examine the booster and satellite and determine if they can be
The Rokot booster has been flown three times: two test flights
in December 1990 and 1991, and an amateur radio satellite launch in
December 1994. All three launches had been from silos at Baikonur;
the Plesetsk Rokot launch would have been the first from an above-
Khrunichev had entered a joint partnership with
DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa) called Eurockot to market the Rokot
to Western markets. Although the booster has a small capacity — 1,
900 kg (4,180 lbs.) to low-Earth orbit — Eurockot has contracts with
Iridium, DBSI, and Leo One to launch communications satellites.
Eurockot had planned the first commercial Rokot launch in
early 2000 from Plesetsk. However, both the recent Rokot problems and
the fact that the first commercial launch is for financially-troubled
Iridium may delay the launch.
S P A C E V I E W S
2000 January 3