Site news

Site map


About this site

About the author




Searching for details:

The author of this page will appreciate comments, corrections and imagery related to the subject. Please contact Anatoly Zak.

Related page:


Command and control challenges in Phobos-Grunt mission



A network of Russian laser tracking stations. Credit: NPK SPP

Previous chapter: Russian ground control network

Bookmark and Share

Roskosmos: cosmonauts make the world's first laser communication

Published: 2013 Jan. 29

Laser network

On January 29, 2013, Roskosmos announced that four days earlier Russian cosmonauts onboard the ISS had conducted the world's first transmission of science information via a laser channel. The crew on the Earth-orbiting outpost downlinked the data to the Arkhyz ground station in Northern Caucuses. The downlink speed reached 125 megabits per second and the uplink speed was three megabits per second. A total of 400 megabytes of Earth-surface images and telemetry had been transmitted from the station to the ground, Roskosmos said. The experiment was developed jointly by NPK SPP and RKK Energia.

As of 2012, Russia deployed a network of five laser stations intended for tracking and control of orbital vehicles:

  • Shelkovo (east of Moscow) equipped with Sazhen-T instrument;
  • Nizhniy Arkhyz (Northern Caucasus Region) equipped with Sazhen-TM-D laser range finder;
  • Maidanak Mountain (Uzbekistan) (operated until 2002);
  • Baikonur (Kazakhstan) equipped with Sazhen-TOS instrument;
  • Savvushka (near the city of Zmeinogorsk) (Southern Russia);
  • Komsomolsk-na-Amure (Russian Far East) equipped with Sazhen-S instrument.

The network developed and operated by Moscow-based NPK SPP corporation was to be expanded to include 20-25 ground stations.

Optical space tracking network

In August 2012, a representative of the Russian mission control center told Russian media that the country had planned to deploy a new network of optical tracking stations within the nation and abroad for the Automated Space Danger Warning System or ASPOS during 2013-2014. The new capabilities of the network, which was operating in the experimental mode at the time, would enable it to improve spacecraft tracking up to the geostationary orbit.

Just two months earlier, the deputy designer general at the Sistemy pretsizionnogo prioborostroenia (Precision hardware systems) NPK SPP Evgeny Grishin announced the construction of a new powerful optical and laser telescope in the mountains of the Altai Region. Scheduled for completion in 2014, the facility at the Titov Optical and Laser Center would support both Roskosmos and space defense forces.

Featuring a 3.12-meter main mirror, a 100-ton telescope was to be built at the 650-meter mountain peak, allowing it to rival the American AEOS installation in Hawaii. The telescope would be able to follow artificial and natural objects in the sky with a speed of up to three degrees per second and sport a pointing accuracy of two arc seconds. A predecessor of the new telescope at the Altai facility, which was introduced in 2004, had a mirror with a diameter of 0.6 meters.

The decision to build the new installation was preceded by a three-year search, apparently in the effort to replace or complement another optical tracking center at the Maidanak mountain in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. The Maidanak facility was known for its role in supporting anti-satellite operations within IS and Naryad projects. Similarly to that facility, the Altai telescope was reported to be capable of detecting objects with the size of just 203 centimeters in the geostationary orbit.

As of 2013, Russian officials were also reported conducting negotiations with the government of Bolivia for the construction of a tracking facility in the country.

In addition, the AZT 33IK telescope of the Sayan observatory operated by the Solar and Earth Institute within the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science, RAN, would also be integrated into the ASPOS network.

Following the impact of a large meteorite in Russia in February 2013, causing widespread injuries and property damage, the head of the NPK SPP corporation Viktor Shargorodsky told the RIA Novosti news agency that the ASPOS system would have capabilities to track both space junk and meteors.

Completion of ASPOS network

Coincidently on Feb. 21, 2013, Roskosmos announced a tender for a 86-million-ruble contract to upgrade and complete the testing of the first phase of the ASPOS OKP (461ON01) network during 2013-2015. (OKP stood for "okolozemnoe prostranstvo" - near-Earth space). A winning bid was scheduled to be announced on April 4, 2013.

The contract would cover an effort to complete the measurement and informational system for the AZT 33VM telescope and the automated system for gathering, processing, analysis and transmission of tracking data. According to Roskosmos, the first phase of the ASPOS OKP network would include following components:

  • Main data analysis center (the core of the system);
  • Division of collision hazard monitoring in the geostationary, high elliptical and medium-altitude orbits;
  • Division of collision hazard monitoring in the low Earth orbit;
  • Division for calculation of solar and geomagnetic activities;
  • Division for analysis of non-navigational data about space objects.

During the second phase of development, the ASPOS network would receive specialized optical and optical-electronic tracking assets.

During its testing phase, the ASPOS network would be able to track space objects at altitudes from 200 to 50,000 kilometers covering practically all orbital inclinations and longitudes. The collision hazard would be predicted for as many as 70 trackable spacecraft, at least 30 hours before the event. The reentry of space objects into the Earth atmosphere would be predicted within 1-30 days from the event with a timing error no more than 25 percent from the time period remaining before the actual reentry.

With the completion of the second phase of the system, the number of trackable spacecraft would be increased to 80, including:

  • no less than 30 spacecraft in the low Earth orbit (such as ISS etc);
  • no less than 15 spacecraft in the geostationary orbit (such as Ekspress comsats);
  • no less than 35 spacecraft in the medium altitude orbit (such as GLONASS satellites);
  • and no less than 5 spacecraft in a highly elliptical orbits (such as Spektr-R space observatory);

Capabilities of the ASPOS network (second phase):

Low Earth orbit
Geostationary orbit
Medium altitude orbit
Highly elliptical orbits
Number of trackable spacecraft
Advance warning time for a close pass (in hours)
Number of close passes trackable per day
Number of controlled reentries trackable in 30 days
Number of objects at high risk of reentry trackable per day
Minimal size of trackable objects (in centimeters)
Average orbital parameter error for trackable objects (in kilometers)


Next chapter: Russian deep-space communications network

Bookmark and Share

Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: February 22, 2013

All rights reserved



A circa 2012 artist rendering of the laser tracking center in Altai mountains. Credit: Ipromashprom


A prototype of a space-based laser system developed for testing onboard Mir and ISS. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak