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.


As one of the key space-based assets of the Russian military at the beginning of the 21st century, the Lotos-S spacecraft was designed for the so called space-based radioelectronic surveillance, known by the Russian abbreviation as KREN or in English -- ELINT, for "electronic intelligence." Radio-signals intercepted by the satellite would help to locate, characterize and target various military vehicles and installations. Although Lotos-S satellites would never be identified as such during launches and would enter orbit under anonimous Kosmos names, a number of official Russian publications and mass media statements revealed general information about the project.

Bookmark and Share

History of the Liana project

During the Soviet period, four generations of the Tselina spacecraft, developed by KB Yuzhnoe in Dnepropetrovsk, provided the Soviet military with electronic intelligence. Work on the Tselina-3 spacecraft started in 1985 and its preliminary design was completed in 1989. However with the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, KB Yuzhnoe ended up in the newly independent Ukraine. To secure its strategic assets, the Russian political and military leadership sought to transfer all significant military projects out of the independent republics into Russia.

During 1993, the TsNIRTI radio technology institute, also known as the Berg institute, completed a preliminary engineering proposal for the Liana system, that was supposed to succeed the Tselina network. The document became the base for a government decree authorizing the full-scale development of the Liana system. Given the Beg institute's previous experience in radio-electronic warfare, the government awarded the organization the status of chief developer of the overall network as well as its associated ground-based hardware and satellites' onboard payloads. Within the organization, Aleksandr Lebed, the head of Department NTO-32, was appointed chief-designer of the Liana network. Yuri Kharitonov, the head of Department 32.1, led the development of the Bars payload.

During 1994, the organization developed a preliminary design of the system, aiming to use the Zenit launcher, ironically also developed and built in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Since the Russian government also wanted the Liana network to succeed US-PM naval ELINT satellites, various conflicting requirements led developers to propose two variations of future satellites -- Lotos and Pion. Pion-NKS (14F139) carrying a radar antenna was expected to replace both the US-A and US-PU satellites, providing electronic intelligence and target guidance for the Russian navy. The overall system or complex, including the Pion spacecraft and its ground complex had apparent designation 14K160.

Still, developers hoped to minimize the range of hardware needed for the two sub-systems and give both versions of the satellites the capability to back up each other, while at the same time, Lotos and Pion could still pursue their specific tasks. Such an approach, which had failed during the development of previous generations of ELINT systems in the Soviet period, promised to cut cost and shorten development time.

During 1996-1997, with the semi-official slogan "not a single ruble to Ukraine" taking root, developers were asked to "re-tailor" the project from the Zenit to the Soyuz-2-1b rocket. Along with the launch vehicle, the project's base moved from Baikonur to Plesetsk.

In 2002, the project was shaken again by the decision to squeeze it into the existing spacecraft bus originally developed by TsSKB Progress of Samara for the Kobalt and Resurs DK satellites. This move was apparently preceded by an ill-fated effort by KB Arsenal in St Petersburg to develop a custom-built satellite platform for Liana. One of the stumbling blocks was a system of radiators and batteries which failed to maintain required thermal conditions onboard the satellite and ultimately led to the demise of the project. Although TsSKB Progress in Samara got the task of building the spacecraft bus, final assembly still remained at KB Arsenal. The same arrangement apparently existed with previous military satellite programs.

As a result of these critical changes, the future spacecraft had to slim down by some 30 percent, which apparently led to limitations on the capabilities of the system, while at the same time pushing development behind schedule and ballooning its price. Main panels of Lotos satellites carrying antennas of the Bars sensors had to be significantly reduced in size, compared to a previous-generation Brig payload onboard the Tselina-D spacecraft and Korvet sensors onboard Tselina-2.

In the end, the payload mass of of the Lotos and Pion spacecraft was reduced by a factor of 2.5-2.8 times while the satellites themselves became 1.48-1.6 times lighter. While costing more, mass reduction prompted the introduction of some progressive technologies on both spacecraft, including the use of digital signal processing in the Bars payload. In turn, it enabled pinpointing sources of electronic signals onboard the satellite itself, thus significantly improving the capabilities of the Liana network.

In 2005, on a request from future users of the system, the developers prepared a new preliminary study aiming to extend the projected lifespan of the Lotos satellite to five years and that of Pion to four years. A year later, proposed upgrades were approved as a basis for further development of the spacecraft. (366)

During more than 15 years in development, the Liana project has suffered from all the common problems of the Russian defense industry - underfunding, brain drain, mismanagement and deteriorating infrastructure. According to unofficial reports various technical and financial problems led to splitting the development of the Lotos satellite into two phases. A "streamlined" version of the spacecraft, known as Lotos-S or 14F138, would fly first on Soyuz-U, followed by a full-scale spacecraft designated 14F145 to be launched by Soyuz-2-1b in 2012 at the earliest.

As a Russian-built equivalent of Tselina satellite, Lotos-S ended up to be much more expensive than its "foreign" predecessor, while reportedly offering little or no improvement in technical capabilities compared to Tselina. In the meantime, Lotos development kept dragging behind schedule and operational Tselina satellites were going out of business, leaving the Russian military without crucial space-based means of electronic intelligence. In desperation, the Russian military reportedly even mulled the possibility of purchasing an equivalent system abroad.

A scandal on the launch pad

Lotos-S had finally reached the launch pad at the end of July 2009, however new technical problems surfaced again shortly before a scheduled July 28 liftoff. This time, launch personnel at Plesetsk either did not have proper equipment or could not access one of the failed components, thus requiring the return of the entire spacecraft to the manufacturer's plant in St Petersburg.

Moreover, it was rumored that the service module of the spacecraft had to be disconnected and returned to TsSKB Progress in Samara, at least in part due to oil contamination allegedly caused by the air-conditioning system at Arsenal's poorly maintained assembly plant. (During tough economic times, the facility was rented out as a container storage frequented by heavy trucks, which led to severe contamination of the site.)

The latest incident triggered a major scandal within the industry. Roskosmos leadership had had enough and dismissed the head of the project at KB Arsenal and gave TsSKB Progress general command of the ongoing work. Even a full transfer of the Liana spacecraft integration from St Petersburg to Samara was rumored in unofficial Internet postings.

In the meantime, the satellite's propulsion module loaded with corrosive propellant faced tight certification deadlines before it could be launched without major refurbishment. All vacations and time off for employees involved in the project was reportedly prohibited until repairs on Lotos-S were completed.

New intelligence bird takes off

Published: 2009 Nov. 21; updated 2010 May 26

Russia has launched a classified payload, apparently introducing a new family of electronic intelligence satellites. A Soyuz-U rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Nov. 20, 2009, at 13:44 Moscow Time carrying a military satellite designated Kosmos-2455, official Russian sources said. According to the Space Forces' spokesman, the satellite entered its planned orbit at 13:52 Moscow Time and a minute later established contact with ground control.

Western radar detected the satellite in a 200 by 905-kilometer orbit with an inclination of 67.2 degrees toward the Equator. The upper stage, which delivered the satellite was seen in a similar orbit. Just two days after the launch, the spacecraft conducted a strange short maneuver, which raised its perigee by five kilometers, in a possible test of its propulsion system. It was followed by a "normal" maneuver, which circularized the orbit at an altitude of 890 - 905 kilometers, where the spacecraft was likely to operate. Nevertheless, around four days after the launch, unofficial reports said that at least one of the panels, carrying critical intelligence antennas had not deployed. The problem was apparently caused by the failure of a electric drive or its heater, both built by KB Arsenal. However the issue was reportedly resolved sometimes before November 29. Still, the satellite did continue conducting modest adjustments of its orbit in the first week of December 2009.

On March 23, 2010, Aleksandr Kirilin, the head of TsSKB Progress in Samara, in his address to the meeting of the company's administration said that testing of a spacecraft "launched on Nov. 20, 2009," was continuing and the company's specialists along with sub-contractors "would have to resolve existing issues, in order to provide the quality work of the vehicle."

Nuklon experiment

Continuing a tradition of dual-purpose missions, KB Arsenal, the primary integrator of the Lotos-S spacecraft, planned to use it as a platform for the Nuklon experiment. According to the company, the instrument was designed to detect high-energy cosmic rays and it was expected to fly in 2008 - 2010. An illustration, which accompanied the publication, revealed that the Nuklon payload would hitchhike a ride to space onboard the Lotos satellite. (See image) It would be deployed in orbit in a fashion similar to that of the Arina scientific package, which rode to orbit onboard the Resurs-DK spacecraft. Both satellites share the service module carrying the instrument's deployment mechanism. It was unclear whether the Nuklon would fly with the very first Lotos satellite or on one of the subsequent missions.

Mission status in 2012

Speaking at the expanded meeting of the company's management on November 16, 2012, the head of TsSKB Progress Aleksandr Kirilin said that a spacecraft equipped with the company's service module had been working successfully following its launch in 2009. He noted that there had been no issues with the module and the spacecraft had remained operational. However, a poster on the web forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine commented that the satellite had lost its capability to perform its primary operational function in December 2011.


The Liana system development team:

Organization Responsibility
TsNIRTI radio technology institute Overall network; ground hardware; Bars payload for Lotos satellite
Arsenal Final integration of spacecraft
TsSKB Progress Spacecraft bus development; Soyuz 2-1b launch vehicle
NII Vektor Specialized payload development, BSK, for Pion satellite
TsKB Avtomatika Control and test hardware
OKB MEI Power supply systems
NPO Vega Radar antenna for Pion satellite

Page author: Anatoly Zak; last update: November 6, 2014

Page editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: December 11, 2009

Copyright © 2009, 2014




The Lotos electronic intelligence satellite. Credit: TsNIRTI


Lotos-S electronic intelligence spacecraft was expected to fly in 2014. Credit: Arsenal


This promotional image approximates the general architecture of the Pion navy electronic intelligence satellite. The actual vehicle carries not one but two radar antennas, as well as deployable panels with receiving sensors similar to those on the Lotos-S satellite (above). Credit: TsNIRTI


As of 2014, Pion-NKS (14F139) spacecraft for radar and radio surveillance was promised to enter orbit in 2015. Credit: Arsenal

Lotos payload

Deployable panels of the Lotos spacecraft carrying ELINT sensors (under red covers). Credit: TsNIRTI

ELINT payload

An ELINT satellite payload during development. Credit: TsNIRTI


A schematic illustrating the Nuklon experiment onboard the Lotos spacecraft. Credit: KB Arsenal