Above: GLONASS-K satellite. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
As its American counterpart, the Russian satellite navigation system, known as GLONASS, was designed to determine the coordinates and the speed of an aircraft, a vessel or any other vehicle across the globe. The third-generation satellite in the Russian global positioning system was known as GLONASS-K.
The GLONASS-K version was based on a brand-new Ekspress-1000K platform developed by NPO PM design bureau (later renamed ISS Reshetnev). The spacecraft featured a lighter, standardized unpressurized bus. This version also featured a third L-band transmitter for civilian users known as L3, which was expected to be in wide use by aviation. The 935-kilogram GLONASS-K spacecraft was designed for a no-less than 10-year life span, considerably longer than that of its predecessors. Thanks to its extended service life, the satellite promised to cut its cost in half. The satellite's payload would also deliver more precise navigation than its predecessors and provide search and rescue functions. The satellite also featured more efficient power-supply system and for the first time employed the thermal pipes to improve reliability of its thermal control system.
NPO PM completed preliminary design for the GLONASS-K satellite in 2002. Around that time, the first launch of GLONASS-K satellite was expected in 2005 and beginning in 2008, the GLONASS constellation would be replenished only with single GLONASS-K satellites launched on Soyuz-2/Fregat rockets. Pairs of satellites could be delivered by Protons. It was expected that 20 GLONASS-K satellites would be launched by 2011. First four GLONASS-K satellites would be used for tests lasting two years.
In December 2006, the head of NPO PM, Nikolai Testoedov, promised the first launch of the GLONASS-K spacecraft in 2009, a year later than the launch date projected in 2005. At the time, GLONASS-K were expected to be launched by the Soyuz-2 rocket from Plesetsk, instead of Proton. However in 2009, official Russian documents said that the production of GLONASS-K satellites had only started that year. (367) The first launch was then expected in 2010. (Apparently, there were plans to piggy back a GLONASS-K satellite on a Proton mission with a pair of GLONASS-M satellites.) In a 2010 interview the head of Roskosmos quoted 2011, for the first launch of the GLONASS-K spacecraft, however in September 2010, the first GLONASS-K launch was promised for the end of December of that year. By the time the first GLONASS-K satellite was launched at the beginning of 2011, ISS Reshetnev promised to start a replacement of older GLONASS-M satellite in 2013.
By 2012, it was also decided to equip GLONASS-K satellites with KOSPAS-SARSAT search and rescue signal hardware, which was previously carried on the ill-fated Sterkh satellites and whose further development had been canceled. At the time, Russian documents indicated that 15 GLONASS-M satellites and 22 GLONASS-K satellites were slated for production and launch from 2012 to 2020. (722) Flight testing of GLONASS-K satellites was promised to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2015. (723)
Preparations for the first launch
In December 2010, the launch of GLONASS-K was postponed from Dec. 28, 2010, and during January 2011 it slipped from Feb. 15 to Feb. 24, 2011. The satellite was finally returned to the launch site on Feb. 11, 2011.
As the first launch attempt was being prepared on the morning of Feb. 24, 2011, 57 minutes before a liftoff scheduled for 06:11:19 Moscow Time, an automated system interrupted the pre-launch sequence, apparently due to problems with the flight control system onboard the Soyuz-2.1b rocket. According to initial reports, a new launch attempt would be made exactly 24 hours later after replacement of the avionics box in the flight control system, however a longer delay was also apparently discussed. Indeed by the end of the day on February 24, Lt. General Oleg Ostapenko, a commander of the Russian space forces, told Russian media that due to the extra time required to re-check failed systems, the next launch attempt would take place on the reserve date of Feb. 26, 2011. The meeting of the State Commission to review the readiness for the launch was expected around noon February 25, Ostapenko said.
Published: 2011 Feb. 25; updated: Feb. 26
A lighter, better version of the Russian navigation satellite went into orbit for a real-time test. The new spacecraft, designated GLONASS-K, promises to eventually replace the GLONASS-M satellites which currently comprise Russia's space-based global positioning system.
A Soyuz-2.1b rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying the GLONASS-K1 (No. 11) satellite lifted off on Feb. 26, 2011, at 06:07:15 Moscow Decree Time, from Pad 4 at Site 43 the Plesetsk launch site. This was the first time a satellite for the GLONASS constellation flew onboard the Soyuz-2 rocket from Russia's northern launch site. All previous missions in the program originated from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and were carried by Proton rockets.
The switch from launching trios of satellites on Proton to delivering single spacecraft on smaller Soyuz rockets marks the transition from building the GLONASS constellation to its replenishment and maintenance. Still, according to the manufacturer, the GLONASS-K satellite was designed to be fully compatible with both Soyuz and Proton rockets. It was originally reported that Soyuz-2 rockets could carry a pair of GLONASS-K satellites during operational missions.
According to the planned flight profile of the GLONASS-K1 mission, a three-stage Soyuz-2 rocket was to release Fregat and its payload on a suborbital trajectory. The Fregat upper stage would then fire its own engine for 19 seconds to enter an initial 212 by 241-kilometer parking orbit with an inclination of 64.8 degrees toward the Equator. Fregat would then fire its engine for 564 seconds to enter an elliptical 278 by 19,145-kilometer orbit. Upon reaching an apogee (the highest point) of this orbit, Fregat's engine would make a third 224-second maneuver to enter its final nearly circular orbit with an altitude of about 19,140 kilometers. The inclination toward the Equator would remain the same throughout the mission.
Soon after the launch, the Russian space forces confirmed that facilities of the Titov chief test and control center had started tracking the mission at 06:10 Moscow Time. The Russian space agency then announced that Fregat had separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle at 06:16 Moscow Time and the payload entered the initial parking orbit. Ground control was expected to establish contact with the satellite at 09:44 Moscow Time on the same day. The Ministry of Defense then did confirm that following the separation of GLONASS-K from the upper stage at 09:41:03 Moscow Time, ground facilities had established control over the satellite at 09:44 Moscow Time.
A recap of the GLONASS-K launch on Feb. 26, 2011 (Moscow Decree Time):
Officially designated Kosmos-2471, the first GLONASS-K satellite lowered its orbit to an operational altitude one month after launch.
Above: A scale model of the GLONASS-K satellite.
Next chapter: GLONASS-K2 satellite
A summary of the Fregat upper stage maneuvers during the launch of the GLONASS-K No. 11 satellite:
Known specifications of the GLONASS-K (14F143) satellite:
*As of 2009. Previously, Uragan-K's design life was quoted as 12-15 years;
**The original target mass of 745 kilograms proved to be unachievable by the beginning of flight testing in 2011. Mass of 850 kilograms was also quoted during the development period.
***1,270 and 1,460 Watts was also quoted by various sources
Key developers of the GLONASS-K satellite:
This page is maintained by Anatoly Zak; last update: September 29, 2015
Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: March 7, 2011
The Uragan-K model originally promised to extend life span of individual satellites within GLONASS constellation to 12 or even 15 years. Later specifications called for a 10-year "guaranteed service life." Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
Artist rendering of GLONASS-K satellite in orbit. Credit: ISS Reshetnev
GLONASS-K satellite during acoustic testing. Credit: ISS Reshetnev
A GLONASS-K satellite is being prepared for transportation. Credit: ISS Reshetnev
The Soyuz-2.1b rocket with the first GLONASS-K satellite on the launch pad in Plesetsk in February 2011. Credit: Roskosmos
GLONASS-K1 lifts off on Feb. 26, 2011. Credit: Rossiya 24 via Claude Mourier