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A concept of a prospective spacecraft for communications and broadcasting, PKS SV, presented by RKK Energia in 2009. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


In 2009, a Russian Proton rocket launched the W2A satellite for Eutelsat Communications of France, featuring a giant deployable antenna. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


A concept of global communications system using nuclear powered satellites with large deployable antennas. Credit: RKK Energia

RKK comsat

A scale model of a communications satellite proposed by RKK Energia. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak

Above: A concept of a nuclear-powered, all-weather military radar satellite presented in 2010. Credit: RKK Energia

Previous chapter: Russian military satellites

In August 2012, ISS Reshetnev, a leading Russian developer of military and application satellites, announced that it has been working on the enormous space-based antenna reaching 48 meters in diameter when deployed. According to the company, its design of the antenna reflector had the best chance of winning a tender of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, thanks to Reshetnev's know-how in large deployable and transformable space structures. The winning bid was to be selected in August, followed by the work on the preliminary design, the production of manufacturing blueprints and the construction of a full-scale mockup of the antenna segment, ISS Reshetnev said. The company did not specify what would be the purpose of the antenna, but noted that the project would be unique for Russia.

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Russia radar reconnaissance project?

The August 2012 announcement by ISS Reshetnev was preceded by several reports from Russia about the industry proposals for military and civilian satellites carrying large communications and radar antennas. In particular, RKK Energia, a key developer of manned spacecraft, worked for years on a large deployable antenna and even sent one of its prototypes to the Mir space station. The spectacular structure was then successfully opened on the exterior of the station by spacewalking cosmonauts.

Over the past three decades, RKK Energia proposed these structures for a variety of military and civilian applications, including its installation on a giant global communications platform. In 2010, the company presented a project of a "Specialized Spacecraft" or SKA carrying a pair of umbrella-like reflectors. (In the Russian rocket industry a term "specialized" had been historically used as a euphemism for military projects.) According to the company, the proposed spacecraft would be used for all-weather, round-o'clock monitoring of the Earth surface and the airspace and for weapons guidance in order to "provide informational superiority, particularly during military conflicts." The SKA apparently mirrored the American classified satellites believed to be operating in orbit. RKK Energia made the proposal for SKA in connection with the start of work in Russia on space-based nuclear sources of energy in 2009. As of 2010, a 20-ton nuclear-powered satellite could operate in orbit for 10-15 years starting as early as 2017. RKK Energia also proposed a similar satellite platform for the development of a global communications constellation.

However even that far-fetched project featured antennas with a diameter of "just" 20 meters, or more than twice smaller than the structure under development at ISS Reshetnev!

Before the end of 2012, ISS Reshetnev confirmed that the company did win the tender for the development of innovative antenna within a Reflektor R&D project.


Specifications of the "Specialized Spacecraft", SKA, proposed by RKK Energia circa 2010:

Spacecraft mass 20 tons
Operational life span 10-15 years
Capability of a power-supply system (nuclear) 150 - 500 kilowatts
Orbit Geostationary or highly elliptical
Operational deployment 2017

Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: September 28, 2014

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