US-A and US-P military satellites
By 1957, Nikita Khrushchev finally won struggle for power in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. Among many sweeping changes the new leader started in the USSR was the modernization of the Soviet navy. (109) Khrushchev mercilessly scrapped the construction of grandiose battleships ordered by Joseph Stalin, opting instead for smaller maneuverable navy armed with cruise missiles. (87)
At the time, relatively small design bureau designated OKB-52 and subordinated to the Ministry of Aviation Industry, MAP, led the development of cruise missiles. Not surprisingly, Vladimir Chelomei, the head of OKB-52 soon became one of the favorites of the Khrushchevean leadership. At the end of the 1950s, Chelomei found himself at the front row of the intensive program aimed to equip the Soviet navy with the long-range cruise missiles.
Concept of MKRTs system
Although, the Soviet developers succeeded in advancing range and speed of the new cruise missiles, the improvements also brought new challenges. The new generation of Chelomei's missiles designated P-6 could now strike beyond the range of radar installed on the ships, which launched them. (34, 84) This meant that a new guidance system was necessary, if the Navy was to use a full capability of the new weapon.
It was Vladimir Chelomei himself, who offered the solution. He proposed space-based radar and electronic intelligence spacecraft, which could pinpoint the location of NATO ships. After some preliminary studies, apparently initiated in 1959-1960 (70), the Soviet government authorized the development of such system with two official decrees, issued on June 23, 1960, and on March 16, 1961. (29)
During 1961, OKB-52 design bureau successfully defended the project of the system and in 1962, the organization completed a preliminary design of the US system. (29)
Dubbed MKRTs, the system included two subsystems, both relaying the information to a centralized control facility. The first subsystem included a network of the satellites designated US-P, which would intercept the radio-signals emitted by the enemy ships. The US stands for "Upravlayemyi Sputnik" (Controlled Satellite). Letter "P" meant "passivniy" (passive) as oppose to the second subsystem of the network: US-A or "aktivniy" (active). The US-A satellites would use radar to locate ships, which maintain total "radio-silence" and therefore remain "invisible" to the US-A satellites. (79)
Unlike many other military systems, where the USSR struggled to catch up with the West, the MKRTs-type network was a pioneering development. Its creation testifies how seriously the Soviet leadership was taking the threat coming from the Western sea power.
An official Russian source (70), published after the Cold War, revealed the existence of unnamed opposition to the MKRTs system. The alternative proposals, apparently within the Ministry of Defense, called for merging Navy system with the Tselina network, which was under development at the same time. The Tselina system was expected to intercept the signals in the wide range of electromagnetic spectrum, as oppose to MKRTs network, which would mostly "target" the frequencies used by the Western navies.
According to the critics of the MKRTs network, a"unified" system could reportedly address the needs of all types of armed forces, including the Soviet navy. However, the competing interests within the Soviet Ministry of Defense prevented the creation of such "unified" system. In addition, the effort by the MKRTs developers to include "active" radar-carrying spacecraft into the system also favored the navy-only network. A single ground control and data processing center would manage both US-A and US-P sub-networks. Such configuration allowed creating a centralized guidance system for the Soviet sea-based missile forces.
The OKB-52 design bureau was the original "head organization" in the development of the MKRTs network, while the KB-1 bureau, led by Raspletin and subordinated to the Ministry of Radio Industry, took responsibility for radio-systems. In 1964, however, KB-1 was assigned general responsibility for the system, and OKB-52 became the primary developer of the US-A/P spacecraft for the system. In its turn, the OKB-52, which around the same time started the development of the Almaz orbital station, did not have capability to produce the US-type spacecraft in mass, as it would be required in order to deploy and replenish the network. As a result, Leningrad-based KB Arsenal, previously specialized in artillery and missile development, got involved into the project.
On April 30, 1969, the Military Industrial Commission, VPK, of the Presidium of the Soviet of Ministers USSR made an official decision to charge KB Arsenal with the production of the US-A and US-P spacecraft. By May 1969, NPO Mash was finalizing the issue of the design documentation for the US-A spacecraft, however the documentation for the US-P system was not ready. (79) Specifically for the project, a special spacecraft division was formed within KB Arsenal.
After necessary expansion and upgrades of its manufacturing and testing facilities in St. Petersburg, KB Arsenal launched pilot production of the US-type spacecraft in 1970.
Vladimir Chelomei originally proposed to launch the IS and US-A/P spacecraft by a launch vehicle based on the UR-200 ballistic missile developed at "his" OKB-52. With the cancellation of the UR-200 program in 1964, both spacecraft were switched to a R-36-derived launcher, known today as Tsyklon-2. However, before the Tsyklon-2 could entered service, the R-7-derived launch vehicles were planned to be used.
On August 24, 1965, the Soviet government issued a decree, clearing the way for flight testing of the US-type spacecraft.
During 1965 and 1966, a two-stage version of the 11A510 (Voskhod) vehicle launched two prototypes of the US-A spacecraft. During both missions, traditional electrical batteries replaced nuclear power generators eventually planned for the spacecraft. (29)
Initial flight testing was reportedly characterized as successful and the second phase of test launches was planned with a specific purpose of testing the system designed to detach and boost a radioactive source of energy onboard the US-A spacecraft from its operational altitude to a higher orbit.
The US-A subsystem was operational in 1971. Admiral N. N. Amelko, led the State Commission overseeing flight testing.
The problems with the reliability of the nuclear-powered energy sources was a main reason delaying the test program of the US-A subsystem. According to the official Russian source, short life span of the US-A satellites and their low reliability prevented full-scale deployment of the subsystem. (70) In 1988, after several accidents with US-A satellites, the subsystem was abandoned. The US-P spacecraft and their modifications known as US-PM continued flying at the turn of the 21st century, with the latest launched in December 1999.
During his visit to KB Arsenal in St. Petersburg in 2001, the commander of the Russian Space Forces, VKS, General Perminov indicated that another US-P spacecraft would be launched before the end of the year.
Follow-on to MKRTs
In 1978, TsNII Kometa started the development of the second-generation MKRTs system, technical proposals for which were ready in 1979 and 1980. In June 1981, the Soviet government issued a decree authorizing development of the follow-on MKRTs system, known as Ideogramma-Pirs. It called for two-stage development schedule, including preliminary design of the subsystem locating surface vessels and technical proposals for the subsystem, which would located submerged vessels. The government asked for bids on the system from Podlipki-based NPO Energia, Leningrad-based PO Arsenal and Kuibushev-based TsKBM, the developer of Yantar reconnaissance satellites.
In 1982, PO Arsenal completed a preliminary design of the Ideogramma-Pirs system. After reviewing the project interagency commission approved its development schedule on December 12, 1982. Fleet Admiral S. G. Gorshkov, the Chief Commander of the Soviet navy played a key role in moving the project forward. According to the official Russian source (76), Gorshkov helped to solve disagreements between Russian Space Forces (GUKOS) and Soviet navy (VMF) on one side and Ministry of General Machine-building (MOM) and Ministry of Radio Industry (Minradioprom) on another, on the subject of work distribution in the MKRTs project.
The first stage of the project called for the development of the operational Pirs-1 complex, during the second stage, an experimental complex, code-named Forwater would be launched. By 1983, TsNII Kometa was expected to complete technical proposals for the overall system and PO Arsenal for the spacecraft itself. In September 1982, VMF issued a technical assignment for the overall system, and September 1983, GUKOS issued a technical assignment for the spacecraft.
TsNII Kometa and PO Arsenal submitted technical proposals for the system during 1983. This time, however, there was a conflict between the technical proposals on the spacecraft and the overall system, due to disagreements between MOM and Minradioprom. Finally in December 1984, the government decreed to complete the first stage of the project by 1990 and the second stage by 1993.
For the next-generation of the naval electronic-intelligence spacecraft, KB Arsenal was working on a new platform, which could be launched by the Zenit-2 rocket. With the disintegration of the USSR, the platform was "re-tailored" for the Soyuz-2 launcher. (110)
2001 Dec. 21: After a two-day delay, a Ukrainian-built Tsyklon-2 booster successfully delivered a Russian electronic intelligence spacecraft on Friday.
A 182-ton two-stage rocket blasted off from Site 90 in Baikonur at 07:00 Moscow Time on December 21. The rocket was carrying the US-PU satellite built by KB Arsenal development center in St. Petersburg and designed to provide electronic intelligence and missile guidance information for the Russian Navy. The rocket successfully inserted the spacecraft into a transfer orbit with the apogee of 400 kilometers. The satellite, officially designated Kosmos-2383, was then expected to use its own propulsion system to reach a final orbit around 07:48 Moscow Time on December 21.
This was the first launch of the US-type spacecraft since December 1999 and the 104th launch of the Tsyklon-2 booster.
2004 May 28: Russia launched a classified military payload to monitor foreign Navy activities. According to the Russian Space Forces, KVR, a Tsyklon-2 rocket carrying a Kosmos-series satellite blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:00 Moscow Time. Four minutes later, the spacecraft separated from the upper stage of the launch vehicle. The payload was identified as Kosmos-2405.
Tsyklon-2 routinely delivers US-PM electronic intelligence, ELINT, spacecraft designed to detect sea vessels by intercepting their radio signals. The information from the satellites reportedly can be used to navigate Russian cruise missiles toward their targets. This mission was originally expected at the end of 2002. A previous spacecraft of this type was launched in December 2001.
2006 June 25: Russian military received a new spacecraft for orbital electronic intelligence, ELINT.
An official statement of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, said only that the launch vehicle carried a payload for the Ministry of Defense and the mission proceeded nominally. It is known that Tsyklon-2's missions from Baikonur carry electronic intelligence satellites of the US-PU family. The previous spacecraft of this type was deorbited on April 28, 2006.
This mission was previously expected to take off on June 22, 2006. The spacecraft was officially designated as Kosmos-2421.
On July 3, 2006, well-informed Kommersant newspaper reported that the satellite failed to deploy one of its two solar panels, leaving spacecraft without enough power to perform its nominal tasks. Flight controllers reportedly spent a week commanding the satellite to conduct a number of maneuvers in the effort to force the panel to deploy, but without much success. At the time, KB Arsenal, the spacecraft developer, still hoped to solve the problem, the newspaper said.
The Kommersant article followed by a publication of the official ITAR-TASS news agency, which said that two out of eight solar panels failed to deploy and after an additional effort by ground control one of two failed panels did deploy. Controllers continued working on solving the problem, which did not affect overall performance of the spacecraft, the statement said.
On July 12, 2006, Roskosmos disclosed that Kosmos-2421 carried the KONUS-A piggyback science payload, developed by Yoffe FizTekh Institute and designed to detect gamma-ray bursts.
Kosmos-2421 apparently ceased to function on March 14, 2008. It then moved away from its operational orbit on Feb. 16, 2008, and desintegrated around March 19, 2008, generating more than 500 trackable debris.
US (MKRTs) development cooperation:
Overview of US-A/P spacecraft versions:
Launches of US-type spacecraft:
The Tsyklon-2 booster, versions 11K67 and 11K69, launched from Site 90 in Baikonur delivered all but first two spacecraft.
*Time until reentry
** In all launches the orbit inclination had been around 65 degrees
Next chapter: Liana network
Page author: Anatoly Zak. All rights reserved. Last update: December 25, 2017
The artist rendering of the US-A spacecraft. Credit: KB Arsenal
Scale model of US-A spacecraft. Credit: KB Arsenal
The US-A spacecraft at NPO Mash facility in Reutov near Moscow. Credit: NPO Mash
The US-A spacecraft during pre-launch processing. Credit: KB Arsenal
Scale model of the nuclear-powered generator used onboard US-A spacecraft. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
Scale model of the US-P spacecraft in deployed configuration. Credit: KB Arsenal
The US-P spacecraft during pre-launch processing. Credit: KB Arsenal
The propulsion unit of the US-A and US-P spacecraft. Credit: KB Arsenal
A Tsyklon-2 rocket launches the last US-PM satellite in 2006. Credit: Roskosmos
The Kosmos-2421 satellite with a KONUS-A gamma-ray detector Credit: Roskosmos