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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.

MKRTs structure

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.

Development cooperation

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.

Flight testing

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.

In operation

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)

Recent launches

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.

The Tsyklon-2 rocket, blasted off from Site 90 in Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 25, 2006, at 08:00 Moscow Time.

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.


APPENDIX

US (MKRTs) development cooperation:

Responsibility
Developer Leading designer Location
Overall design
KB-1 (OKB-41/TsNII Kometa)
A. I. Savin
Moscow
The US spacecraft
OKB-52
Vladimir Chelomei
Reutov
US spacecraft production
KB Arsenal
Vladimir Kalabin
Leningrad
US-A radar system
NII Priborostroenia
I. A. Brukhanskiy, P. O. Salgavik
Moscow
US-P ELINT system
NIRTI (Minradioprom)
S. I. Baburin, V. L. Grechka
Kaluga
US spacecraft propulsion system
Turaevskoe MKB Soyuz (Minaviaprom)
V. G. Stepanov, D. D. Gelevich
Lutkarino
US spacecraft attitude control system
TsKB Almaz (Minradioprom)
P. M. Kirillov
-
US spacecraft telemetry system
NII Priborostroenia (MOM)
V. V. Khramov, V. B. Kharin
-
Nuclear power generator
OKB-670 (NPO Krasnaya Zvezda)
M. M. Bondaryuk, G.M. Gryaznov, V.I. Serbin
Moscow

 

Overview of US-A/P spacecraft versions:

Type
Designation
Notes
US-A
ER
Original version with Buk nuclear power generator
US-AM
ERM
Upgraded version with Buk-3 nuclear generator first launched in July 1987
?
E1
Radar satellite equipped with solar panels
?
E1M
Radar satellite with solar panels
US-P
E2
Original version of electronic intelligence satellite
US-PM
E2M
Upgraded version ELINT satellite introduced in 1985
US-PU
E2U
Upgraded version of ELINT satellite introduced in 1988
?
E2N
Upgraded spacecraft for the Zenit rocket
Plazma-A
E3A
An experimental satellite with a Topol and Topaz nuclear generator
?
E4
Upgraded spacecraft for the Zenit rocket

 

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.

Launch date
Name Orbit** Lifespan Type Notes
1965 Dec. 28
Kosmos-102
218x278
17*
US bus
Prototype launched by Voskhod/11A510
1966 July 20
Kosmos-125
250x250
-
US bus
Prototype launched by Voskhod/11A510
1967 Dec. 27
Kosmos-198
281x265
2
US-A
Phase II in testing. Launched by the 11K67 vehicle.
1968 March 22
Kosmos-209
282x250
6
US-A
Phase II in testing. Launched by the 11K67 vehicle.
1969 Jan. 25
-
-
-
US-A
Phase II in testing. Launch failure of the 11K67 vehicle.
1970 Oct. 3
Kosmos-367
280x250
-
US-A
Failed shortly after reaching orbit (34) The first Soviet vehicle equipped with a Buk nuclear reactor.
1971 April 1
Kosmos-402
279x261
8
US-A
-
1971 Dec. 25
Kosmos-469
276x259
10
US-A
-
1972 Aug. 21
Kosmos-516
277x256
31
US-A
-
1973 April 25
-
-
-
US-A
Failure of the launch vehicle (?)
1973 Dec. 27
Kosmos-626
280x257
46
US-A
First US-A spacecraft manufactured at KB Arsenal. (79)
1974 May 15
Kosmos-651
276x256
71
US-A
-
1974 May 17
Kosmos-654
277x261
74
US-A
-
1974 Dec. 24
Kosmos-699
454x436
-
US-P
First US-P spacecraft manufactured at KB Arsenal. (79) Exploded on April 17, 1975. (34) Reportedly, it maneuvered in March 1975, destroyed in April and August 1975. (147)
1975 April 2
Kosmos-723
277x256
46
US-A
-
1975 April 7
Kosmos-724
276x258
65
US-A
-
1975 Oct. 29
Kosmos-777
456x437
-
US-P
Exploded in January 1976
1975 Dec. 12
Kosmos-785
278x259
1
US-A
Failed in orbit
1976 July 2
Kosmos-838
456x438
-
US-P
Exploded in the summer 1977
1976 Oct. 17
Kosmos-860
278x260
24
US-A
-
1976 Oct. 21
Kosmos-861
280x256
60
US-A
-
1976 Nov. 26
Kosmos-868
457x438
-
US-P
-
1977 Aug. 24
Kosmos-937
457x438
-
US-P
-
1977 Sept. 16
Kosmos-952
278x258
22
US-A
-
1977 Sept. 18
Kosmos-954
277x251
-
US-A
Reentered over Canada
1979 April 18
Kosmos-1094
457x437
-
US-P
Operated in pair
1979 April 25
Kosmos-1096
457x439
-
US-P
Operated in pair
1980 March 14
Kosmos-1167
457x433
372
US-P
Worked in pair with Kosmos-1176, and Kosmos-1220. (147)
1980 April 29
Kosmos-1176
265x260
134
US-A
-
1980 Nov. 4
Kosmos-1220
454x432
145
US-P
Orbit inclination was shifted three degrees relative to the one of Kosmos-1167's. (147) Reentered on Feb. 16, 2014 at 05:58 Moscow Time.
1981 March 5
Kosmos-1249
264x251
106
US-A
-
1981 March 21
Kosmos-1260
447x428
176
US-P
Operated in pair with Kosmos-1286
1981 April 21
Kosmos-1266
267x248
8
US-A
Failure
1981 Aug. 4
Kosmos-1286
444x431
224
US-P
Operated in pair with Kosmos-1260
1981 Aug. 24
Kosmos-1299
266x247
13
US-A
Failure
1981 Sept. 14
Kosmos-1306
424x171
150
US-P
Speculated booster problem resulted in a lower orbit, which was raised after 8 days. Replaced Kosmos-1260.
1982 Feb. 11
Kosmos-1337
446x428
8
US-P
Operated in pair with Kosmos-1286 and 1306. Failure of the propulsion or flight control system. (147)
1982 April 29
Kosmos-1355
446x428
249
US-P
-
1982 May 14
Kosmos-1365
264x252
136
US-A
Worked in pair with Kosmos-1372 (147)
1982 June 2
Kosmos-1372
270x246
71-72
US-A
Worked in pair with Kosmos-1365 (147)
1982 Aug. 30
Kosmos-1402
264x251
120
US-A
Failed in orbit. Reentered in 1983. (147)
1982 Sept. 4
Kosmos-1405
444x430
91
US-P
-
1982 Oct. 2
Kosmos-1412
266x251
39
US-A
-
1983 May 7
Kosmos-1461
444x429
268
US-P
-
1983 Oct. 29
Kosmos-1507
442x433
222
US-P
-
1984 May 30
Kosmos-1567
442x432
538
US-P
-
1984 June 29
Kosmos-1579
264x249
125
US-A
-
1984 Aug. 7
Kosmos-1588
446x426
341
US-P
-
1984 Oct. 31
Kosmos-1607
264x250
93
US-A
-
1985 Jan. 23
Kosmos-1625
370x116
-
US-P
Speculated failure of the 2nd stage re-ignition. Reentered after few hours.
1985 April 18
Kosmos-1646
443x429
312
US-P
Exploded in orbit. (147)
1985 Aug. 1
Kosmos-1670
264x252
83
US-A
-
1985 Aug. 23
Kosmos-1677
263x251
61
US-A
-
1985 Sept. 19
Kosmos-1682
370x116
382
US-P
Speculated failure of the 2nd stage re-ignition. Reentered after few hours.
1986 Feb. 27
Kosmos-1735
-
613
US-P
First US-P-type (US-PM) spacecraft developed at KB Arsenal. (79)
1986 March 21
Kosmos-1736
-
92
US-A
Failed in orbit (?)
1986 March 24
Kosmos-1737
-
254
US-P
-
1986 Aug. 4
Kosmos-1769
-
367
US-P
(147)
1986 Aug. 20
Kosmos-1771
-
56
US-A
Deorbited Oct. 15, 1986. (147)
1987 Feb. 2
Kosmos-1818
~800 (320)
~150
US-A
Equipped with a new thermoionic nuclear power unit, rather than a thermoelectric one in the previous models. In January 2009, chief of Russian space forces essentially confirmed US reports (320) that on or about July 4, 2008, the spacecraft released a cloud of small fragments, possibly droplets of sodium-potassium coolant from its nuclear reactor. Kosmos-1818 was expected to decay in 2045.
1987 April 8
Kosmos-1834
-
-
US-P
(147)
1987 June 18
Kosmos-1860
-
40
US-A
(147)
1987 July 10
Kosmos-1867
~800 (320)
~330
US-A
First US-AM version. Equipped with a new thermoionic nuclear power unit, Buk-3, rather than a thermoelectric one in the previous models. (320)
1987 Oct. 10
Kosmos-1890
-
-
US-P
(147)
1987 Dec. 12
Kosmos-1900
-
128
US-A
Failed in orbit. First US-A-type spacecraft developed at KB Arsenal. (79) Deorbited after uncontrolled descent. (147)
1988 March 14
Kosmos-1932
-
66
US-A
Last US-A. Deorbited May 19, 1988.
1988 May 28
Kosmos-1949
-
662
US-P
-
1988 Nov. 18
Kosmos-1979
-
374
US-P
-
1989 July 24
Kosmos-2033
-
516
US-P
-
1989 Sept. 27
Kosmos-2046
-
560
US-P
-
1989 Nov. 24
Kosmos-2051
-
625
US-P
-
1990 March 14
Kosmos-2060
-
-
US-P
-
1990 Aug. 23
Kosmos-2096
-
-
US-P
Replaced Kosmos-2051. (147)
1990 Nov. 14
Kosmos-2103
-
-
US-P
Apparently failed on Jan. 2, 1991, after functioning for 49 days. Reentered on April 3, 1991, while out of control.
1990 Dec. 4
Kosmos-2107
-
-
US-P
-
1991 Jan. 18
Kosmos-2122
-
-
US-P
-
1993 March 30
Kosmos-2238
-
-
US-P
-
1993 April 28
Kosmos-2244
-
657
US-PU
-
1993 July 7
Kosmos-2258
-
603
US-PU
-
1993 Sept. 17
Kosmos-2264
-
564
US-PU
-
1994 Nov. 2
Kosmos-2293
-
510
US-PU
-
1995 June 8
Kosmos-2313
-
684
US-PU
Desintegrated June 26, 1997
1995 Dec. 20
Kosmos-2326
-
660
US-PU
-
1996 Dec. 11
Kosmos-2335
-
726
US-PU
-
1997 Dec. 9
Kosmos-2347
-
710
US-PU
Desintegrated Nov. 22, 1999
1999 Dec. 26
Kosmos-2367
-
-
US-PU
-
2001 Dec. 21
Kosmos-2383
-
-
US-PU
13 fragments detected in March 2004.
2004 May 28
Kosmos-2405
-
-
US-PU
Mission delayed from the end of 2002(?) Deorbited on April 28, 2006.
2006 June 25
Kosmos-2421
-
-
US-PU
The launch was delayed from June 22, 2006. Carried a KONUS-A gamma-ray detector.

*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: February 16, 2014

PICTURE GALLERY

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 follow-on ELINT satellite platform to be launched by the Zenit-2 rocket. Credit: KB Arsenal


Launch

Launch

Launch

A Tsyklon-2 rocket launches the last US-PM satellite in 2006. Credit: Roskosmos


Kosmos-2421

The Kosmos-2421 satellite with a KONUS-A gamma-ray detector Credit: Roskosmos