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Russia launches new satellites to modernize military's navigation system

December 3, 2001

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia has successfully launched three satellites, which are intended to maintain the shrinking space navigation system of the nation's armed forces.

The three satellites, which were put into orbit Sunday by the Proton-K booster, became part of the GLONASS satellite navigation system of the Russian military, the Russian space forces said in a brief statement.

The system, developed during the 1970s, originally had 24 satellites but their number dwindled to six before Sunday's launch, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported Monday. A representative of the company that manufactured the Uragan satellites told a conference in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on Monday that the military would bring their number to 10-12 and maintain it at that level through 2003.

The official with the Scientific-Industrial Company of Applied Mechanics, whom ITAR-Tass did not identify, said the GLONASS system needs at least 16 satellites to work efficiently. He said the number of GLONASS satellites would eventually be brought to 24 after 2005. They will be of a new, improved Uragan-K type with greater capability and lifespan increased to 7-10 years, he said.

The report did not say how long the existing Uragan satellites last. Most of Russia's satellites were designed during the Soviet era and have a lifespan of just a few years, and the struggling space industry lacks the funds to develop longer-lasting space vehicles that would be more cost-efficient.

Russian Space Agency chief Yuri Koptev said earlier this year that Russia is on the brink of losing the GLONASS system, which the military needs to get data for launches of mobile ballistic missiles and obtain other essential navigation services. Koptev and other officials mentioned the need to modernize the aging satellite fleet as the nation's top priority in space.

The Russian space forces said Monday that they plan to launch eight other satellites by the end of the year, ITAR-Tass reported. The new spacecraft will include a Meteor-3M weather satellite, four Cosmos-series military satellites and three Gonets communication satellites.

The space forces said that Russia currently has about 100 military, civilian and dual purpose satellites.


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