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According to one Russian source, the Garpun (Harpoon)(GUKOS index: 14F136) spacecraft would relay information from military reconnaissance satellites in the low Earth orbit to ground control stations. (383) The spacecraft, developed at ISS Reshetnev in Zheleznogorsk, could be a replacement for the previous-generation Geyzer (Potok) satellites for the nation's Command and Relay System, GKKRS.
Garpun would enable the transmission of strategically important information to the military and other security organizations in near-real time, even when the spacecraft gathering data was out of direct contact with ground control. Such new-generation Russian military satellites as Pion, Lotos for electronic intelligence and the ill-fated Legenda opitical reconaissance satellite could take advantage of Garpun's capabilities. Since they were all developed in roughly the same timeframe, these satellites could be equipped with specialised antennas designed to track Garpun in the geostationary orbit, as its host spacecraft was circling the Earth far below.
Theoretically, with a network of three Garpun satellites spread over the Equator, low-orbiting satellites could maintain uniterrputed communications with ground control. According to one scenario, the low-orbital Russian spacecraft could gather intelligence data over North America while being out of range of ground stations on the Russian territory, however still be able to downlink information and receive commands via Garpun satellites.
In January 2008, General Vladimir Popovkin, then the commander of Russian space forces, promised the launch of this satellite at the beginning of 2009. The mission was later delayed from Sept. 15, 2011. In the first half of September 2011, the launch was scheduled for Sept. 18, however by Sept. 15, the mission slipped to Sept. 21.
A month after leaving a communications satellite in a wrong orbit, the Proton rocket lifted off again delivering a military payload. The launch of the Proton-M rocket with the Briz-M upper stage took place as scheduled on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, at 02:47:00 Moscow Summer Time (18:47 EDT on Tuesday) from Pad 24 at Site 81 in Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Only few minutes after the liftoff, the official RIA Novosti news agency released a statement from a Ministry of Defense spokesman confirming the successful launch and saying that at 02:52 Moscow time the Titov military ground control center started tracking the mission.
According to the official statements, the rocket was carrying a military payload, which was believed to be the Garpun new-generation military data relay satellite, bound to the geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Equator.
The launch vehicle was expected to follow a standard ascent trajectory to release the upper stage with its payload at 02:57 Moscow Time, followed by firings of the Briz-M and the separation of the satellite at 11:48 Moscow Time, Russian space agency said.
The Western radar did find the spacecraft/upper stage stack in the 404 by 35,586-kilometer orbit with the inclination 48.6 degrees toward the Equator, apparently in-route to its operational position.
Several hours after the launch, the official Russian media confirmed that the satellite, designated Kosmos-2473, had reached its planned orbit. It was the fourth mission of the Proton rocket in 2011.
Within 24 hours after the liftoff of Kosmos-2473, ISS Reshetnev development center in Zheleznogorsk declared the launch a success and confirmed that the company had developed and built the spacecraft.
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: February 1, 2012
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An unconfirmed design of the Garpun satellite. (383) The drawing might not be accurate, as data relay satellites typically feature large communications antennas, as for example, the American Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS, below:
A Proton-M/Briz-M rocket with the Kosmos-2473 (Garpun) data relay satellite lifts off in the early hours of Sept. 21, 2011. Credit: Roskosmos