Russian Soyuz 2.1b to launch first satellite for EKS early warning system

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Archive photo of a Soyuz 2.1b rocket launch on Dec. 26, 2014, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Russia is readying a Soyuz-2.1b rocket to launch the first satellite of its newest early warning system called EKS (meaning Unified Space System). The spacecraft, named Tundra, is scheduled to lift off at 2:00 a.m. EST (7:00 GMT) on Tuesday, Nov. 17, from Site 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, located in Northern Russia.

The satellite will be delivered into a highly-elliptical geosynchronous orbit, called a Tundra orbit. It is a high inclination orbit, usually near 63.4 degrees, and an orbital period of about four minutes less than a solar day. A satellite placed in this orbit spends most of its time over a chosen area of the Earth. Tundra provides higher elevation angles than can be offered by a geostationary orbit.

The Tundra spacecraft was built by the RKK Energia company, a Russian manufacturer of spacecraft and space station components. The satellite is probably based on the USP bus, used mainly in the Yamal spacecraft series. The payload was provided by the Central Science and Research Institute “Kometa”. The satellite will be operated by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces (VKO).

Little is known about the Tundra satellite. Information released by the Russian media and government sources indicate that the spacecraft will feature two deployable solar arrays and will replace the US-KMO and US-K satellites of the previous early warning Oko program. Western analysts believe that it could carry also a secure emergency communications payload to be used in case of a nuclear war. The new system could have a true look-down capability and will detect missiles launched from the sea as well as from the U.S. territory.

The EKS system will consist of satellites capable of identifying ballistic missile launches from outer space. The new system will also complement early-warning radars. The development of the program started in 2000. The Russian Ministry of Defence awarded in 2007 a contract for the EKS system to RKK Energia with a first test launch planned in 2009. Several problems, changing requirements and a court case delayed the first mission to Nov. 17, 2015.

“Everything is going according to the schedule, approved by the Russian defense minister. We are practically ready to put the first satellite in high-elliptic orbit in November,” said Maj. Gen. Oleg Maydanovich, chief of the VKO Space Command, as was reported by Sputnik News in June.

Currently, the are six Tundra satellites planned to be launched until 2020. Next Tundra mission is scheduled for 2016. The exact date is yet to be announced.

The previous Oko system, started in the 1970s, is described as outdated and is planned to be replaced by EKS as soon as possible. Oko has currently two types of satellites: US-KMO in geosynchronous orbits, with an infrared telescope to identify ballistic missile launches, and US-K in Molniya orbits, with optical telescopes and infrared sensors. The last satellite for the Oko system, designated Kosmos 2479, was launched on Mar. 30, 2012.

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