Elektro-L No. 3 prepares for launch

The Elektr0-L No. 3 was the third spacecraft in the planned constellation of Russian meteorological satellites deployed in the geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface.

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A photo of the Elektro-L3 satellite released on Oct. 5, 2018.

Elektro-L No. 3 mission at a glance:

Launch date
End of December 2019
Projected life span
10 years
Orbital position in the geostationary orbit
165.80 East longitude
Prime developer
NPO Lavochkin
Launch vehicle
Upper stage
Launch site
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The development of the third satellite in the Elektro-L series was given the final go ahead in 2012. Like the first and second Elektro satellites, Elektro-L No. 3 was designed for launch on the Zenit rocket, which Roskosmos ordered for the mission in March 2013. However in February 2015, in the wake of the Russia's conflict with Ukraine, NPO Lavochkin announced that the third Elektro-L satellite would be switched from the Zenit to a Proton rocket.

At the time of the Elektro-L2 launch in December 2015, the third satellite was promised to fly at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. In February 2016, RKS Corporation announced that its production factory, RKP, had been completing calibration and testing of the multi-range scanning instruments which would be used aboard the satellite to produce images of the Earth.

However, in October 2016, Roskosmos said that the launch of the Elektro-L No. 3 satellite had been scheduled for the end of 2017. The main reason for an almost a year-long delay was apparently related to the satellite's key instruments, which had to be upgraded based on the experience with the preceding spacecraft.

By the middle of 2017, the third Elektro-L mission had to be postponed again until the fall of 2018. As of September 2017, the launch was scheduled for Oct. 22, 2018. At the time, GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow was assembling a Proton-M rocket for the mission and RKK Energia in Korolev was working on the Block DM-03 No. 6L upper stage with the completion date of Sept. 30, 2018. However, sometimes after April 2018, the Elektro-L3 mission had to be delayed once again until the second quarter of 2019.

By September 2018, the launch was pushed back yet again, this time to October 2019. At the time, the assembly of satellite was underway, but a number of technical issues still remained, even though they were deemed to be resolvable, industry sources said.

Elektro L3 enters final tests

On October 5, NPO Lavochkin announced that on September 3, the Elektro-L3 had been transferred to the checkout and test station, KIS, for final but non-integrated tests and confirmed that its launch had been scheduled for October 2019. According to the company, all components of the spacecraft had been manufactured, including the service module and the payload module, except for the heliophysics instrument complex, GGAK. NPO Lavochkin promised the delivery of the GGAK payload in January 2019.

The October 5, press-release quoted the head of NPO Lavochkin's directorate for meteorological projects Vladimir Babyshkin as saying that following tests at KIS, the satellite would be assembled in flight configuration at the company's experimental plant. The thermal control platform with service system would be installed inside the body (of the service module) and the payload module would be installed on top of the service module. The specialists were also completing the installation of the onboard cable network and thermal protection system. After the completion of the assembly, the spacecraft would have to undergo integrated tests in the vacuum chamber.

Only after the installation of the GGAK payload, the satellite would enter acceptance tests, including electric tests, radio checks inside anechoic chamber and mechanical load tests, the announcement said.

On August 15, 2019, Elektro-L No. 3 was shipped from NPO Lavochkin to NITs RKP in Peresvet for vacuum testing, NPO Lavochkin said.

According to another press-release published by NPO Lavochkin on November 25, the final checks of the Elektro-L satellite included integrated testing in the vacuum chamber, electrical and vibration tests, as well as checks for electromagnetic compatibility of avionics in the anechoic chamber. In addition, the geliophysics payload was installed aboard the spacecraft and a number of mechanical checks were conducted, including test deployment of the solar panels and antennas of the spacecraft, measurement of clearances between the spacecraft and the launch vehicle payload fairing, calculation of the spacecraft's center of mass, mechanical loads measurements and checks of the propulsion system pressurization. Specifically for anechoic chamber tests, NPO Lavochkin manufactured a custom rigging system, which allowed to deploy the satellite's high-gain antennas into operational position in the limited room of the test facility, the company said.

Elektro-L3 arrives at launch site


Elektro-L3 leaves NPO Lavochkin's assembly facility for Sheremetievo airport in November 2019.

The train carrying the Proton-M launch vehicle and the payload fairing for the Elektro-L3 mission departed the production plant at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow for Baikonur during the night from October 31 to November 1, 2019. The same echelon also carried a full-scale mockup of the Briz-M upper stage intended for integrated tests of the new fueling station in Baikonur, Roskosmos said. The train reached Baikonur as planned, GKNPTs Khrunichev announced on November 11, 2019.

In the meantime, the Elektro-L3 satellite was shipped from NPO Lavochkin to Moscow's Sheremetievo airport, where it was loaded aboard an An-124-100 transport plane and, on November 25, 2019, the spacecraft was flown to Baikonur. According to the press-release published at the time, the launch of the spacecraft was scheduled for the end of December 2019.

On November 29, the Chief Designer Council overseeing the Elektro-L3 launch campaign met at RKK Energia and gave the green light to the fueling and final processing of the Block DM-03 upper stage for the mission, the company announced.

(To be continued)

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The article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 2, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 5, 2018

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Scenes at NPO Lavochkin showing the assembly of the Elektro-L satellite or one of its prototypes circa 2016. Credit: Roskosmos


A photo of the Elektro-L3 satellite published by Roskosmos on Nov. 25, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Elektro-L3 satellite was transported to Baikonur in November 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos