Development of the EKS network
Russia's new early warning constellation promised wider coverage and more accurate tracking of missiles, however its development bogged down in organizational and technical problems, pushing it at least a decade behind schedule.
Previous page: Oko (US-K) early warning satellites
A proposed structure of the Russian early warning satellite system included satellites in the equatorial and high-inclination elliptical orbits.
A circa 2000 proposal for the location of Russian early warning satellites in the geostationary orbit by 2005.
Development of the Tundra satellite
At the turn of the 21st century, the prime developer of the Russian early warning network, TsNII Kometa, formulated a new architecture for the space-based constellation, which was designed to replace the existing US-KMO early warning satellites. The new-generation network planned for deployment by 2005 included four satellites in geostationary orbit with a wide angle of view, which would be capable of watching entire continental and oceanic regions. In addition, five or six satellites would be deployed in high elliptical orbits with a narrow angle of view to focus on particular regions.
The Russian space industry submitted bids for a tender to develop key components of the new early warning system. In the definition phase of the project, the developer of the previous-generation Oko satellites -- NPO Lavochkin -- won a contract for the low-orbit version of the satellite, along with GKNPTs Khrunichev, which was to build the geostationary version. According to some reports, GKNPTs Khrunichev hoped to use its Yakhta satellite platform as a basis for its early warning satellite.
At NPO Lavochkin, Konstantin Pichkhadze took charge of the spacecraft development and his deputy Valery Timofeev led the project.
NPO Lavochkin based its proposals on studies first conducted from 1983 to 1985 and finalized from 1994 to 1998 under the code-name Sozvezdie-Barbet (Barbet Constellation). The Ministry of Defense apparently approved the system, hoping for a low-cost development within two or three years. (760)
It is likely that some clues on the design of the early incarnation of the EKS system and its satellites could be gleaned from NPO Lavochkin's Nord project circa 1990s. Designed to provide satellite communications primarily in the extreme arctic regions, the Nord spacecraft bore close resemblance to Oko satellites. Moreover, Nord satellites were to fly in a 650 by 40,000-kilometer orbit inclined 63 degrees toward the Equator, similar to orbital parameters expected for Tundra satellites. (118) A description of the Nord project released in 1997 promised its use within the "integrated space system." (207)
However, after several years of debates and lobbying within the industry, TsNII Kometa embarked on a major revision of the project. The company apparently canceled the results of the original tender and gave the entire contract to RKK Energia, which was to base it on its brand-new Yamal satellite. The new satellites were expected to be lighter, cheaper, more reliable and carry more sensitive equipment.
The modular design of the Yamal spacecraft promised the possibility of using one basic platform, dubbed Viktoria, for both types of early-warning satellites: those launched into elliptical orbits and those in the geostationary orbit. Moreover, RKK Energia advertised the Viktoria platform as a versatile satellite bus for practically every application planned by the Russian space agency and the Ministry of Defense.
The technical assignment for the development of the EKS satellite based on the Viktoria platform was approved in March 2004. It appears that Russian President Vladimir Putin was shown a full-scale mockup of the EKS satellite based on the Viktoria platform among other military spacecraft displayed during his visit to Plesetsk on Feb. 18, 2004.
However, recent sources hint that the EKS network has remained the only satellite system that has adopted the Viktoria satellite bus. Neither the Russian space agency nor the Ministry of Defense has bought into the idea of a single multi-purpose platform. (566) Still, RKK Energia used the experience and technology developed for the original Yamal-100 satellites and for the Viktoria bus to launch a pair of Yamal-200 satellites in 2003 and the BelKA remote-sensing satellite in 2006.
Like most Russian space projects at the turn of the 21st century, the EKS program fell years behind schedule. As usual, the EKS suffered from a brain drain and the generational gap in the cash-strapped industry. In 1999, the number of employees at TsNII Kometa fell to just 1,500 people from at least 5,000 in the 1970s and the majority of the remaining staff was approaching the retirement age. (422) Veterans also told stories about mismanagement and corruption at the company.
In 2007, the Commander of the Russian space forces Vladimir Popovkin promised the launch of the new-generation early warning satellites in 2009 and a year later he specified that it would be the end of 2009.
The Russian military and the industry blamed each other for the problems, in particular, the industry said that the Ministry of Defense had been constantly changing the requirements for the system.
A rare glimpse into the secretive project was provided by litigation around the EKS development. As court documents would later reveal, in 2007, the Russian Ministry of Defense awarded a contract to RKK Energia advancing 498.2 million rubles to the company.
As of 2010, some 56 billion rubles had been spent on the system and TsNII Kometa requested an extra 17 billion rubles. By the end of 2010, the first launch slipped to the beginning of 2013. (761)
Again, according to court documents, in May 2010, the Chief Armaments Directorate of the Ministry of Defense declared the EKS system obsolete (perhaps in its existing form) and told RKK Energia to cease work on the project. The company was instructed to write off its expenses following a joint audit of existing assets. The audit revealed that 104 million rubles had already been spent.
On May 26, 2011, the Ministry of Defense sued RKK Energia, trying to recover 262.31 million rubles spent on the system but to no avail, the Kommersant daily reported.
In 2012, despite the formal cancellation of the original contract, RKK Energia returned 338.4 million rubles to the Ministry of Defense, minus 159.8 million already spent. Around the same time, Deputy to the Minister of Defense Aleksandr Sukhorukov announced that his ministry had awarded (new) contracts for the EKS system. (762)
Despite all the legal wrangling, engineers reportedly worked in two shifts on the satellite and even planned three-shift work, but serious problems still persisted. New promises to launch the first EKS satellite were made in 2012, but again nothing flew. It appears that the complex imaging payloads onboard the satellite were the main stumbling block in the development.
A report of the official military TV channel in 2014 promised the first launch before the end of the year, but that window also came and went unfulfilled. In April 2014, the final Oko satellite apparently ceased operations in orbit, leaving the Kremlin with ground-based radar only for early warning.
In October 2014, the official TASS news agency quoted the Designer General of the EKS system Sergei Boev promising the launch of the first satellite in 2015. Around the same time, the Commander of the Air and Defense Forces, VKS, Anatoly Nesterchuk promised 10 such satellites in orbit by 2018 -- a seemingly impossible feat. Speaking at the Federation Council on July 8, 2015, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that the space segment of the EKS system would be fully deployed by 2020.
NPO Lavochkin's Nord project likely derived from a proposed early warning satellite design. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
According to some reports, GKNPTs Khrunichev hoped to use its Yakhta satellite platform as a basis for its early warning satellite. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
Illustration of two types of orbits used by Russian early-warning satellites: equatorial orbit (bottom) and the so-called Tundra orbit stretched over the Northern Hemisphere under high angle toward the Equator.
Viktor Misnik led TsNII Kometa after taking the position of the company's Director General and Designer General in 1999. Credit: TSNII Kometa
The EKS satellites will complement early warning data from ground based radar, such as this Voronezh-DM station. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
Ground control center for early warning satellites near Komsomolsk-na-Amure. Credit: TsNII Kometa