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Bion spacecraft

Foton spacecraft

Bion-M spacecraft

Previous chapter: Original Bion series

The latest version of the Russian biological-research satellite officially designated Bion-M (industrial designation - 12KSM) was originally conceived to fly life-science payloads in orbit for as long as six months, giving biologists considerably longer time for exposure of their experiments to weightlessness and space environment comparing to missions onboard its predecessors not exceeding three weeks. Longer missions became possible thanks to upgrades in the satellite's power-supply system featuring solar panels.

In addition, the liquid-propellant engine apparently borrowed from military and civilian remote-sensing satellites, such as Resurs-DK and Persona and capable of multiple firings, would enable considerable flexibility in the choice of landing sites. During the entire flight, Bion-M would have capability to maintain its orientation relative to the Sun.

An upgraded life-support system on Bion-M would have a supply of oxygen stored in the high-pressure tanks. The operational altitude of the satellite would double from around 200-400 kilometers to under 600 kilometers, which would substantially increase the exposure of experiments to space radiation.

Finally, TsSKB Progress in Samara, the prime developer of the satellite, promised to give the spacecraft the capability to downlink live scientific data during the mission to the Russian ground control network and to a receiving station in Sweden at least once a day. At least once, a day, the spacecraft would be able to transmit previously recorded telemetry from scientific payloads.

Like its predecessors, Bion-M was equipped with special "platform with means of separation" or PSO, mounted on top of the descent module. It was essentially an adapter interface designed to release one or multiple payloads from the main satellite.

Upon entering orbit, the spacecraft will also open covers of payload containers to expose experiments to the conditions of space. These covers will be closed again before the braking maneuver to reenter the Earth atmosphere.

Due to high cost and ethical problems, the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems of Spaceflight, IMBP, in Moscow, responsible for the Bion program, discontinued its program of flying primates. IMBP also pledged to follow strict ethics rules regulating the use of all other animals, which would continue orbital flights, such as rats and lizards, as well as enable independent oversight of the project by bioethics officials.

The descent module of Bion-M spacecraft would land under a parachute, which would also release a cluster of soft-landing engines, firing moments before the touchdown, as it was done on Voskhod spacecraft and Yantar reconaissance satellites. A battery onboard the capsule was designed to provide life support for all biological experiments for 24 hours after the touchdown.

In 2004, the Russian space program for the 2005-2015 approved three Bion-M missions (623) between 2010 and 2016. In 2013, Russian press reported that four missions would be conducted by 2020.

As of 2023, the launch of the Bion-M No. 2 satellite was planned in 2024.


nown specifications of the Bion-M (12KSM) satellite:

Spacecraft mass
6,440-6,840 kilograms (6,266 kilograms)*
Descent module mass
2,415 kilograms*
Payload mass inside the reentry capsule
450 kilograms
Payload mass on the exterior of the spacecraft
250 kilograms
Daily average power consumption by support systems
650 Watts
Power supply available for scientific instruments
450 Watts
Temperature maintained inside the reentry module
18-28 degrees C
Oxygen pressure inside the reentry module
18.7-24.0 kPa (140-180 Hg)
Daily oxygen consumption by biological organisms onboard
up to 175 liters
CO2 pressure inside the reentry module
no more than 1 kPa (7 Hg)
Daily CO2 production by biological organisms onboard
no more than 149 liters
Relative humidity onboard
40-70 percent (at 20 degrees C and 700 mm Hg)
A total moisture production by biological organisms onboard and captured by condensation system
500.0 gramms per day
Mission duration
60-45 days (29 days*)
Orbital altitude
575 kilometers
Orbital inclination
64.9 degrees toward the Equator
Launch vehicle
Launch site
Landing site
Russia, Orenburg Region
Landing speed
No more than 3 meters per second
Spacecraft prime manufacturer
TsSKB Progress in Samara
Science program developer
IMBP in Moscow

*Data for the Bion-M No. 1 mission in April-May 2013


Next chapter: Science program onboard Bion-M No. 1


The article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: September 28, 2023

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Scale model of the Bion-M satellite with its original "hitchhiker" payload -- an MKS-TUS satellite. Copyright © 2010 Anatoly Zak


The originally planned configuration of Bion-M No. 1 and TUS spacecraft under payload fairing. Credit: TsSKB Progress


A "see-through" view of the descent module of the Bion-M spacecraft. Credit: TsSKB Progress


The descent module of the Bion-M spacecraft before installation of its experiments. Credit: Roskosmos


The Bion-M No. 1 satellite during assembly in Baikonur. Credit: TsSKB Progress