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One of the most challenging and elusive goals facing science has been accurate forecasting of earthquakes. One controversial theory sought a link between earthquakes and physical phenomena in the Earth ionosphere. Despite a great deal of skepticism, if not outright ridicule of the idea in the broad scientific community, the theory received support in the Russian space industry. In the 1990s, at least two organizations competed for modest federal funds to build a test satellite, which could later lead to an operational network known as Vulkan ("Volcano"). Ultimately, a proposal by KB Mashinostrenia in Miass for the COMPASS satellite won over a similar concept, called Predvestnik ("Forecaster") pushed by KB Arsenal in St. Petersburg.

The COMPASS project

Scientific program of the COMPASS project was managed by the Institute for Earth Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radiowave Propagation, IZMIRAN. The project attracted international partners from Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. As many as three COMPASS launches were planned before the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, would commit to the Vulkan program.

COMPASS-1 mission

2001 Dec. 10, 22:19 Baikonur Time: The Zenit-2 rocket launched the Meteor-3M remote-sensing satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Site 45. Along with the 2,477-kilogram Meteor, the Zenit-2 was carrying a cluster of international payloads with the total weight of 188 kilograms. It included Moroccan MAROCTUBSAT and Pakistani BADR-R satellites. Also onboard were the COMPASS spacecraft developed at KB Mashinostroenia in the city of Miass and designed to test the techniques of predicting earthquakes, and the Reflector experiment developed by NII KP design bureau and designed to monitor "space junk."

The Compass failed soon after launch, apparently delivering no useful data.

COMPASS-2 mission

The launch of the Compass was originally scheduled for the second quarter of 2005 and for November 20, 2005. It was then pushed to May 24, 2006 at 21:50 Moscow Time. According to the Russian Navy, on May 24, 2006, the mission was delayed by technical problems during pre-launch processing.

Russian satellite in trouble after successful launch from a sub

Published: 2006 May 26; updated May 30

2006 May 26: After a two-day delay due to technical problems, the Shtil converted ballistic missile blasted off from a submerged K-84 Ekaterinburg submarine in the Barents Sea on May 26, 2006, at 22:50 Moscow Summer Time. The rocket carried an 86-kilogram COMPASS-2 science satellite designed to study physical phenomena associated with earthquakes.

COMPASS-2 mission

According to official Russian sources, the vehicle reached a 488 by 401-kilometer orbit with the inclination 78.9 degrees toward the Equator at 23:06 and the payload separated at 23:06:48 Moscow Time.

On May 27, 2006, IZMIRAN announced that first radio contacts with the satellite took place as scheduled. However two days after launch, the official Russian agency ITAR TASS, quoted IZMIRAN's director Vladimir Kuznetsov as saying that ground control had problems transmitting test commands to the satellite. Ground controllers also experienced problems in maintaining attitude control of the satellite, apparently resulting in the lack of exposure of solar panels to the Sun. There were conflicting reports about the satellite tumbling or/and the failure of solar panels to deploy. Finally, at the end of the day, on May 29, IZMIRAN announced that due to insufficient power supply the activation of the scientific payload onboard COMPASS-2 was impossible. Several working groups, including representatives from Makeev Design Bureau, has been formed in the hope of resolving the crisis, and tracking facility in the town of Troitsk were receiving signals from the spacecraft.

On June 18, 2006, Bob Christy, an independent satellite observer reported online that bursts of radiosignals from the Compass reached 25 seconds in length, or twice of that a week previously. Christy noted that it was still five seconds short of required time for inserting meaningful scientific data into the signal.

A little satellite that could

Published: 2006 Dec. 8; updated Dec. 10, Dec. 28

A small Russian satellite that was written off for dead months ago has revived and currently operating, Russian space agency, Roskosmos, said Thursday.

The Compass-2 spacecraft run into trouble immediately after its launch from a Russian submarine on May 26, 2006, and there were few reports about its condition since then. Many observers considered the satellite lost.

However according to sources within the Compass program, communications with the satellite was restored on Nov. 16, 2006, and first data was received on Nov. 25, 2006. Flight controllers then initiated efforts to jump-start the satellite's scientific program.

The Compass-2 is designed with a primary goal of testing a controversial theory about the possibility of predicting earthquakes from space. It is the only Russian-built spacecraft dedicated to science, which is currently operating in orbit.

History of space exploration knows a few examples of satellite "revivals" in orbit. The Magion-5 satellite, launched as a "piggy-back" payload with the Interball-2 spacecraft on Aug. 29, 1996, lost power supply, only to be restored on May 6, 1998. An even more improbable scenario played out with the AMSAT Oscar-7 satellite, which was launched on Nov. 15, 1974, and failed in 1981 due to a battery failure. Yet, another "failure" in June 2002 negated the original one, allowing the satellite to transmit data and receive commands, while in sun-illuminated portions of its orbit. (239)

On Dec. 21, 2006, Roskosmos announced that testing of the onboard instruments and service systems was about to be completed. The stabilization and attitude control system, SOS, onboard the satellite had been tested and scientific information had been received by the ground control, Roskosmos said.

According to Roskosmos, on Dec. 28, 2006, controllers successfully tested the Mayak (Beacon) radio transmitter, working at 150/400 MHz.


A full-scale mockup of the COMPASS satellite developed at KB Mashinostroenia in Miass. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

A full-scale mockup of the Predvestnik satellite developed at KB Arsenal of St. Petersburg. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak