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Previous chapter: Origin of the Spektr project
Preparing the mission
According to the Spektr-R development schedule circa 2003, the project had following milestones:
As of 2004, the launch of Spektr-R was expected in 2006 and by 2005, the mission slipped to 2007. (478) In 2007, the launch was promised to take place in November-December 2008. Reports from a major conference on the Radioastron project on Oct. 22, 2008, showed that the Navigator platform for the spacecraft was largely built. It had gone through static, vibration and thermal vacuum testing along with some of its payloads. Electric tests of the prototype vehicle were planned for December 2008, followed by electromagnetic compatibility and other integrated tests.
In the meantime, the flight version of the spacecraft was expected to take shape during 2009:
Integrated tests of the Navigator platform were scheduled for the first quarter of 2009 and the fully assembled spacecraft with its radio telescope was to be tested during the rest of the year, with the launch expected at the beginning of December.
The launch vehicle for the mission was reportedly delivered to Baikonur Cosmodrome on Jan. 16, 2009, but as problems with the Spektr-R mission kept creeping up, the rocket was apparently used to launch another payload.
In June 2009, processing crews in Baikonur started work with a mass and fueling simulator of the Spektr-R satellite. However, only in November 2009 were science instruments were finally installed onboard the flight-worthy Spektr-R and their individual tests with the satellite started. Naturally, a number of problems had to be resolved. (482)
In March 2010, Roskosmos confirmed previous unofficial reports that the MSU-GS multi-spectral sensor, a key payload onboard the Elektro-L No. 1 weather-forecasting satellite would have to be modified to account for the problems encountered in the operation of a similar instrument onboard the Meteor-M No. 1 satellite. This delay could reportedly push the launch of Elektro-L behind the more complex Spektr-R spacecraft. Since both satellites were based on the yet-to-be tested Navigator platform, this schedule change could put more risk on the more expensive and valuable Spektr-R mission, critics said.
In the first half of 2010, the launch of Spektr-R was delayed from mid-2010 until the end of that year. As of June 2010, the official schedule called for the launch of the satellite in November 2010, even though a delay to 2011 was considered likely. In the middle of 2010, a fire at the ground receiving station in Kalyazin damaged hardware and the main antenna which would be used to downlink data from Spektr-R. As a result, the mission was expected to be pushed to the second half of 2011 or at least March 2011. Around the same time, mission officials said that the spacecraft itself was still waiting for some of the components needed to finish its assembly. By the end of 2010, project officials said that Spektr-R could fly as early as May 2011, depending on the progress of the Elektro-L mission.
The Elektro-L mission did reveal a failure of one of four gyroscopic attitude control channels immediately after the launch. Although, the problem was compensated with the use of onboard sensors, NPO Lavochkin made a decision to use a different batch of gyroscopic instruments onboard Spektr-R, pushing its launch date further behind schedule.
In January 2011, the assembly of the Spektr-R satellite was finally completed clearing the way for its electrical tests. These tests were completed by mid-March 2011 and the flight version of the spacecraft was shipped to the NITs RKP center in Peresvet for trials inside a special chamber imitating conditions of space flight. At the same time, the Lebedev Physics Institute, FIAN, had completed the certification of the observatory's payloads for launch, NPO Lavochkin announced on March 18, 2011.
A meeting of the chief-designer council on April 28, 2011 set the launch of Spektr-R for July 18, 2011. On May 3, 2011, NPO Lavochkin announced that a meeting of chief designer council had reviewed the status of testing of the Spektr-R spacecraft itself, its ground control segment and launch hardware. According to the company's press-release, the testing of the ground control segment was underway at the time, while the science ground complex was ready for operation and the Fregat stage along with the payload fairing for the launch of Spektr-R had been shipped to the launch site.
However at the beginning of May 2011, it transpired that the Spektr-R mission was "competing" with the commercial Intelsat-18 satellite for the only available Zenit launcher. Due to the apparent priority of a commercial contract over a scientific mission, it was considered likely at the time that the Zenit rocket originally slated for the Spektr-R mission would be re-purposed for the launch of Intelsat-18. As a result, Spektr-R could be delayed as far as after the launch of the Phobos-Grunt mission, which also needed a Zenit booster to lift off toward Mars in the narrow astronomical window of November-December 2011. As of May 12, 2011, even a single Zenit was yet to be delivered to the Baikonur launch site. Still, on May 13, Nikolai Kardashev, the director of Astro-Space Center at FIAN, told RIA Novosti that the issue had been discussed at Roskosmos and the launch date had been left for the middle of July.
Industry sources explained delays in the production of Zenit rockets for commercial missions by recent disagreements between Russia and Ukraine on the price of RD-171 engines, which power the vehicle's first stage. A recent audit of Moscow-based NPO Energomash, the engine manufacturer, concluded that the company had been delivering its products at a loss, apparently prompting Russian space officials to demand higher prices, at least for commercial launches. While the controversy was going on at the beginning of 2011, Roskosmos officials hoped that further delays in testing of the Spektr-R satellite would free its rocket for the Intelsat-18 mission. In mid-May 2011, sources at Zenit's manufacturer in Ukraine said that two launchers were ready for shipment to Baikonur - one for the Spektr-R satellite and one for the Phobos-Grunt probe.
In the meantime in Moscow, on June 3, 2011, the Chief-Designer Council on the Spektr-R project held a meeting at NPO Lavochkin confirming the July 18 launch date. At the time, the first meeting of State Commission overseeing the launch was scheduled for June 20 at NPO Lavochkin. On the eve of this critical meeting, which was expected to approve the shipment of Spektr-R to the launch site, the Chief-Designer Council planned yet another final meeting to review most critical aspects of the project. Despite some reported technical issues, which still remained to be resolved, the political decision to go ahead with the launch around 06:00 on July 18 was widely expected.
On June 29, Roskosmos announced that loading of propellant on the Fregat SB stage for the mission had just been completed at Site 31 in Baikonur and the vehicle had been transferred back to the MIK processing building at the same site. Fueling of the spacecraft itself started on July 1, 2011. On the same day, processing crews started preparing a launch pad at Site 45 for the upcoming operations.
On May 25, 2011, personnel at Site 31 in Baikonur started connecting the Fregat-SB upper stage for the Spektr-R mission with ground test hardware in preparation for pneumatic tests, the Russian space agency announced. At the time, the spacecraft, which was undergoing final tests at NPO Lavochkin, was expected to be shipped to Baikonur in the first half of June and launched in July 2011, the agency's press-release said. On June 16, processing teams at Site 31, started installation of the instrument module on Fregat, while at the fueling station the equipment was being readied for the loading of propellant onboard the upper stage.
The Zenit-3M rocket (bearing an official unpronounceable name - Zenit-3SLBFSBM) intended for the launch of the Spektr-R spacecraft rocket arrived to the Tyuratam train station on the morning of June 18, 2011. After the completion of Kazakh custom procedures, the vehicle was transported to Site 42 for pre-launch processing.
On June 22, 2011, the project officials announced that all ground tests of Spektr-R had been completed successfully and the spacecraft would depart Moscow for Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 24. At the time, the launch was scheduled for July 18, 2011, at 02:00 UTC. Several backup launch opportunities would be available until the end of the month. The spacecraft did arrive to Baikonur on June 24 onboard the An-124-100 Ruslan transport aircraft. After unloading and formal custom control procedures, the space observatory was shipped to Site 31 for pre-launch processing.
On the morning of July 15, a fully assembled Zenit-3M/Fregat-SB launch vehicle with the Spektr-R spacecraft was lifted from its processing cradle at the MIK assembly building a Site 42 and loaded onto a special transporter-erector for a journey to the launch pad. As final checks were being completed in the afternoon, the State Commission overseeing the Spektr-R launch gave go ahead to the rollout of the launch vehicle to the launch pad at Site 45. The move to the pad was scheduled for July 16, 08:00 Moscow Time with the launch planned for July 18 at 06:31 Moscow Time.
Spektr-R mission chronology
1982: NPO Lavochkin issues technical proposals for the Spektr missions.
1983 Aug. 1: The Military Industrial Commission, VPK, issues an official decision No. 274 entitled "On works for creation of automated interplanetary vehicles for the exploration of planets of the Solar System, the Moon and cosmic space." providing a new impetus to the Spektr project.
1984 middle of the year: NPO Lavochkin's new technical proposals include a spacecraft with a gamma-ray telescope designated 2AG and the 2AM spacecraft with a radio telescope.
Circa 1988: NPO Lavochkin proposes the AM platform as a basis for three Spektr observatories.
1997: The Spektr-RG project becomes the highest priority mission of the Russian space science program, following the loss of Mars-96 spacecraft.
2002 Oct. 17: A Proton rocket launches the European Integral observatory, rendering the Spektr-RG project scientifically irrelevant.
2003: NPO Lavochkin makes a decision to switch the Spektr-R mission from the AM platform to the Navigator platform.
2004: Antenna petals for Spektr-R telescope undergo testing in a vacuum chamber at the European ESTEC center in the Netherlands.
2009 Jan. 16: The launch vehicle for the Spektr-R mission is delivered to Baikonur Cosmodrome but eventually used to launch another payload.
2009 June: Processing crews in Baikonur start work with a mass and fueling simulator of the Spektr-R satellite.
2009 November: Science instruments are finally installed onboard the flight-worthy Spektr-R and their individual tests with the satellite start.
2010 the first half: The launch of Spektr-R is delayed from mid-2010 until the end of that year.
2010 June: The official schedule calls for the launch of the satellite in November 2010, even though a delay to 2011 is considered likely.
2010 mid-year: A fire at the ground receiving station in Kalyazin damages hardware and the main antenna which would be used to downlink data from Spektr-R. As a result, the mission was expected to be pushed to the second half of 2011 or at least March 2011.
2010, end of year: Project officials say that Spektr-R could fly as early as May 2011, depending on the progress of the Elektro-L mission.
2011 January: The assembly of the Spektr-R satellite is finally completed clearing the way for its electrical tests.
2011 April 28: The Chief-Designer Council sets the launch of Spektr-R for July 18, 2011.
2011 May 25: Personnel at Site 31 in Baikonur starts connecting the Fregat upper stage for the Spektr-R mission with ground test hardware in preparation for pneumatic tests.
2011 June 3: The Chief-Designer Council on the Spektr-R project holds a meeting at NPO Lavochkin confirming the July 18 launch date.
2011 June 17: The Chief-Designer Council on the Spektr-R project holds a meeting at NPO Lavochkin, confirming readiness of the satellite for shipment to the launch site.
2011 June 18: The Zenit-3M (Zenit-3SLBFSBM) rocket for the Spektr-R mission arrives to Baikonur.
2011 June 20: The State Commission overseeing the launch of the Spektr-R spacecraft holds a meeting at NPO Lavochkin in Moscow.
2011 June 23: Russian-Ukranian processing teams at Site 42 in Baikonur started unloading stages of the Zenit-3M rocket intended for the launch of the Spektr-R observatory.
2011 June 24: The Spektr-R spacecraft arrives to Baikonur.
2011 July 1: Loading of propellant onboard the Spektr-R satellite starts at a fueling station at Site 31 in Baikonur.
2011 July 15: The State Commission gives go ahead to the rollout of the Zenit-3M/Fregat-SB launch vehicle with the Spektr-R spacecraft from the MIK assembly building at Site 42 to the launch pad at Site 45. The operation was scheduled for 08:00 Moscow Time on July 16.
2011 July 16: The Zenit-3M launch vehicle with the Spektr-R spacecraft rolls out to the launch pad at Site 45 in Baikonur.
Next chapter: Spektr-R mission scenario
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 24, 2011
Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: June 6, 2011
All rights reserved
The receiver payload starts taking shape in 2001. Credit: FIAN
Testing of the Spektr-R's antenna deployment mechanism at NPO Lavochkin in 2002. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Petals for the Spektr-R antenna undergo testing at the European ESTEC center in 2004. Credit: FIAN
Spektr-R prototype mounted on top of the Fregat upper stage during its development in May 2004. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Testing of the Spektr-R's antenna in Pushchino in 2003. Credit: FIAN
Testing of the Navigator platform for the Spektr-R satellite in 2008. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Spektr-R during testing at NPO Lavochkin circa 2010. Note that golden thermal protection foil had already been installed on the underside of the main telescope antenna. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Spektr-R with a folded main antenna during pre-launch checks. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Spektr-R unloaded from the aircraft at the former Buran runway at Site 254 in Baikonur on June 24, 2011. Credit: Roskosmos
The transportation of the Spektr-R spacecraft from Moscow to Baikonur in June 2011. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Spektr-R is being lifted into vertical position inside the processing stand at Site 31 in Baikonur. Credit: Roskosmos