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Bars-M: Russia's first digital cartographer

From 2008 to 2013, Russia developed a series of Bars-M satellites designed to beam back high-resolution stereo images of the Earth surface, first of all for military cartography. As many as six satellites of this type were known to be under construction as of 2014.

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Bars-M replaces Bars

In 2007, the Russia's flagship space cartography project was restarted under name Bars-M. The Ministry of Defense again awarded a contract for the project to TsSKB Progress on October 12 and the active development of the satellite took place from 2008 to 2013. The first mockups of the spacecraft were prepared for tests in 2009. This time, key components of the satellite were to be built inside Russia.

In the middle of 2008, the commander of strategic rocket forces, which apparently hoped to use maps based on the satellite's data for targeting its ICBMs, reportedly signed off on a preliminary design of the Bars-M project. Sometimes later, TsSKB Progress eventually won a federal tender for the project.

Open Russian records on federal procurements indicate that six such satellites had been ordered. In 2011, the federal government sanctioned an 18-month upgrade of Building 6 "V" at TsSKB Progress in Samara. The renovation would enable the parallel assembly of two Bars-M satellites per year in the clean-room environment required by sensitive optical sensors onboard the spacecraft.

Civilian Bars-M

In 2011, a document summarizing remote-sensing missions developed by the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, listed the Bars-M satellite scheduled for launch at the end of 2014. Two more Bars-Ms were expected to follow at the end of 2016 and the middle of 2018.

Possibly, the document refered to the same Bars-M spacecraft, which could be funded jointly by the Ministry of Defense and Roskosmos. However, at the beginning of 2013, Bars-M was mentioned among nine other projects slated for budget cuts at Roskosmos. (733)

Around the same time, Roskosmos documents revealed plans for Kartograph-OE satellites, which could be a civilian version of the Bars-M or some sort of a replacement model. As of 2011, two pairs of Kartograph-OE with optical payloads were planned for launch from 2015 to 2020 and two radar-carrying versions were to fly in 2017 and 2018. (734) As of 2014, only optical Kartograph satellites were promised for launch in 2017 and 2018. (730)

New design

The Bars-M spacecraft received a new development index -- 14F148. The four-ton satellite became the first spacecraft developed at TsSKB Progress almost entirely with computer-assisted design. Bars-M also became the company's first satellite featuring an unpressurized body. As a result, it promised to extend the operational life span of the satellite, since in the past, the main limiting factor for satellites had been the loss of pressure and subsequent failure of internal systems under harsh temperature and vacuum conditions. The unpressurized design could also reduce the overall mass of the spacecraft.

The new architecture of the Bars-M satellite featured three main components:

  • Payload Module, MTsA (from Russian Modul Tselevoy Apparatury);
  • Service Module, MSS (from Modul Sluzhebnykh Sistem);
  • Propulsion System, SVIT (from Sistema Vydachi Impulsa Tyag);

The SVIT propulsion system would be installed inside the MSS service module and could be installed inside the MSS during the assembly via its bottom bulkhead. (737) The SVIT propulsion seemingly derived from previous engine units propelling the Yantar, Kometa, Resurs-DK, Resurs-P and Persona satellites.

The SVIT features four main orbit-correction engines, KTD, developed at Isaev KB Khimmash in Korolev and 12 small attitude-control thrusters, provided by NII Khimmash in Nizhnyaya Salda. Four tanks include a one pair for 50 kilograms of fuel (hydrazine) and another pair for oxidizer (nitrogen tetroxide).

Four cooling radiators, RO, are attached to the four sides of the aluminum structure of the MSS module, forming the box-shaped enclosure of the service module. The payload is attached to the top of the MSS' upper bulkhead.

First developed for the Bars-M project, the MSS module later became the basis for the Obzor-R radar-carrying satellite.

Karat telescope payload


The Karat telescope system (738)

The Bars-M's main instrument inside the MTsA payload module consists of a dual telescope called OEK Karat, where OEK stands for the Optical Electronic Complex. The triple-lens instrument was developed at the LOMO company in St Petersburg, which also built the main imaging system for the Persona reconnaissance satellite.

The hyper-sensitive optical payload onboard Bars-M and its associated calibration equipment could not tolerate even minute variations caused by extreme temperature swings in space. To keep the optics in perfect position, the telescopes are installed inside a large housing known as RSNKP, which can be translated as shape-stable structure. It is made from a carbon-based composite rather than metal. The new material promises to maintain its exact shape even under most extreme conditions in the Earth orbit. During testing on the ground, a special enclosure providing dust-free environment was installed around the module before telescope's blinds could be opened for trials by personnel dressed in special protective gear. (731)

Along with a pair of telescopes, the RSNKP enclosure carries two laser emitters, calibration and guiding laser range finders, mirror reflectors and attitude control sensors.

The four-ton Bars satellites were intended for launch on Soyuz-2-1a rockets from Plesetsk and operate in orbit for at least five years. As many as six satellites could be eventually built, with two satellites per year coming off the production line in Samara. TsSKB Progress planned to spend 4.498 billion rubles to modernize its facilities for the project.

Long delays

As of 2011, there were rumors about the launch of the first Bars-M scheduled in 2012 or 2013. In 2012, the launch was expected between May and September 2013, however by the end of the year, it slipped to 2014.

On May 15, 2012, TsSKB Progress announced that the first phase of testing of the SVIT propulsion system had been completed at Isaev KB Khimmash and that the second phase of testing would take place in September, followed by integrated tests with a "small-size spacecraft."

The rare announcement might have been a PR response to a leaked report to the semi-official Life News agency, saying that Roskosmos was demanding 400 million rubles in damages for the alleged failure by TsSKB Progress to deliver two satellites, apparently referring to the first Bars-M and to the second Persona.

Still, during 2014, the first Bars-M mission was pushed to the beginning of 2015. The launch was then expected in February 2015. This time, the Ministry of Defense apparently also had had enough, filing a 512,260,000-ruble claim against TsSKB Progress on October 7, apparently in addition to several other legal complaints against the company. (736)

During 2014, the satellite was finally assembled and underwent final testing, followed by its shipment by rail from Samara to Plesetsk at the end of January 2015. (732) The launch was first rumored on February 21 and then on February 28. On Feb. 23, 2014, an international note to airmen was issued closing two areas in the Arctic Ocean and hinting the launch time around 14:00 Moscow Time. The rocket was rolled out to the launch pad on February 25.


A payload section with the Bars-M1 satellite is being integrated with the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket in Plesetsk in February 2015.

Bars-M1 lifts off

The Soyuz-2-1a rocket with Bars-M1 satellite lifted off from Pad 4 at Site 43 in Plesetsk on Feb. 27, 2015, at 14:01:35 Moscow Time. According to the official Russian media, the launch went as scheduled and the spacecraft separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle at 14:11 Moscow Time. The satellite established normal communications with ground control at 15:36 Moscow Time.

Within several hours after the launch, NORAD released orbital elements for an object in a 339.4 by 566.6-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.64 degrees to the Equator. The spacecraft had an orbital period of 93.31 minutes. Surprisingly, the satellite was officially identified as Kosmos-2503, not Kosmos-2504, as was widely believed it would. As it became clear, the Olymp satellite, which had previously received a designation Kosmos-2501, was apparently reverted back to a cover-up name Luch.

Within days after the launch, Bars-M1 maneuvered to a higher operational orbit. NORAD radar data indicated that it reached a 544 by 575-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.6 degrees toward the Equator.


A Soyuz-2-1a rocket lifts off on Feb. 27, 2015, with the Bars-M1 satellite.


Summary of Bars-M launches:

  Launch date
Time of launch
Launch vehicle
Launch site
Launch complex
Launch pad
2015 Feb. 27
14:01:35 Moscow Time
2016 March 24
12:42 Moscow Time
2022 May 19
11:03:32.331 Moscow Time
2023 March 23
09:40 Moscow Time
2023 Dec. 21
11:48:39 Moscow Time


Known specifications of the Bars-M satellite:

Launch vehicle Soyuz-2-1a, 14A14
Launch vehicle payload fairing 14S744
Launch site Plesetsk, Site 43, Pad 4
Liftoff mass 4,000 kilograms
Size 4.0 by 2.3 by 2.3 meters
Operational life span 5 years
System designation 14K035
Spacecraft designation 14F148
Imaging system designation OEK Karat
Imaging system resolution 1.1-1.35 meters
Number of spectral bands 7
Imaging area revisit frequency once in three days
Coverage area 1,340/60 kilometers


Bars-M development team:

Prime contractor TsSKB Progress, Samara
Prime contractor for imaging payload LOMO, St. Petersburg
Main propulsion system, KTD KB Khimmash, Korolev
Attitude control thrusters NII Mashinostroeniya, Nizhnyaya Salda



The article, graphics and animation by Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 31, 2023

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: February 27, 2015

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insider content



Animation of the Bars-M satellite deploying in orbit. Click to play. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak



Internal layout of the MSS service module and the SVIT propulsion system for the Bars-M satellite.


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense.


A payload section with the Bars-M1 satellite during pre-launch processing in Plesetsk in February 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense.


Soyuz-2-1a rocket with Bars-M satellite is installed on the launch pad in Plesetsk on Feb. 25, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense.


Soyuz-2-1a with Bars-M1 satellite lifts off on Feb. 27, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense.


Bars-M in orbit.


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Bars-M2 (Kosmos-2515) lifts off on March 24, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense