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Dnepr rocket



Dnepr launches KompSat-3A

The 22nd mission of the Dnepr rocket in March 2015 delivered the South-Korean imaging satellite KompSat-3A.

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Above: KompSat-3A spacecraft.

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Launch profile

launch profile

The launch of a Dnepr booster converted from the R-36M UTTKh (RS-20B) ICBM took place as scheduled on March 26, 2015, at 01:08:46 Moscow Time (6:08 p.m. EDT; 22:08 UTC on March 25) from Site 370/13 at Dombarovsky (Yasny) ICBM deployment area.

The rocket delivered South Korea's one-ton KompSat-3A satellite into a 528-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit following an ascent in southern direction. The orbital insertion lasted slightly less than 15 minutes. Some 32 minutes after the liftoff, the satellite was expected to establish contact with a Norwegian TrollSat station in Antarctica. A Korean ground station was expected to hear from the satellite at 13:04 local time or five hours 56 minutes after the liftoff.

KompSat-3 project

The development of Korea's third multi-purpose satellite or KompSat-3 (a.k.a. Arirang-3A) officially started in 2004 at the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, KARI. The project aimed to build a follow-on spacecraft to Kompsat-1 launched by a American Taurus rocket in 1999 and to Kompsat-2 launched on the Russian Rockot booster in 2006. As its predecessors, Kompsat-3 was designed for remote-sensing observations of the Earth's surface, first of all the Korean Peninsula. The project aimed to give Korean engineers the experience in development of a basic satellite structure, while the imaging system for the spacecraft was outsourced to a European consortium EADS Astrium, later renamed Airbus Defense and Space. EADS' involvement in the KompSat-3 project probably determined the architecture of the KompSat series, which closely resembles Pleiades satellites also developed at EADS.




Above: Design of the KompSat-3A satellite and its comparison to a preceeding KompSat-3. Credit: KARI

In December 2006, the work started on a second satellite in a series -- KompSat-3A -- featuring multi-spectral and infrared cameras for an official goal of monitoring forest fires and volcanic activity. Broader tasks of observation, cartography and disaster monitoring could also be fulfilled with the new spacecraft. The original goal was to provide 0.7-meter resolution for panchromatic imaging and seven-meter resolution for infrared imagery. However both of these capabilities were later improved to 0.55 and 5.5 meters respectively. The main imaging payload onboard the KompSat-3A satellite was designated the Advanced Electronic Image Scanning System, AEISS-A.

According to KARI, the KompSat-3A satellites capable of producing images with a resolution below one meter would be used for environmental, agricultural and oceanographic applications.

Images produced by the satellite would be distributed commercially by KAI Image Inc. inside South Korea, while the international marketing of the satellite's data was delegated to Europe's SpotImage.

Known specifications of the Kompsat-3A satellite:

Liftoff mass
1,100 kilograms
Onboard propellant mass
73 kilograms
Spacecraft size
2.04 meters by 3.78 meters by 6.48 meters
Power supply
1.4 kilowatts
Operational life span
4 years
Orbital altitude
528 kilometers
Orbital inclination
97.51 degrees
Orbital period
98.5 minutes
Local time at ascending node of the Sun-synchronous orbit
Imaging area revisit cycle
28 days
Pan-chromatic resolution
0.55 meters
Multi-spectral resolution
2.2 meters
Infrared resolution
5.5 meters


Known KompSat-3A project developers:

Korean Aerospace Research Institute, KARI Prime developer
Airbus Defense and Space (formerly EADS Astrium) Payload system
AP Aerospace Satellite bus
DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems Focal plane array
AIM Sensors


Mission history

According to KARI documents, the launch of KompSat-3A was originally expected in 2012 or 2013 into a 528-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit.

Apparently, at one point there were some hopes that one or both Kompsat-3 siblings could ride into orbit on Korea's KSLV-1 launch vehicle, which was based on Russia's URM-1 booster from the Angara family of rockets. However as the development of the KSLV rocket fell behind schedule, and KompSat-3 was switched to the Japanese H2A rocket, while a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr was ordered for the KompSat-3A mission.

In March 2010, the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, KARI, chose AP Aerospace to be a prime developer of a satellite bus for the KompSat-3A project. At the time, the launch of the satellite was expected at the end of 2013. The mission was then delayed to 2014 and 2015.

During 2014, the launch of KompSat-3A was scheduled for January 22. At the end of January 2015, the South Korean TV channel YTN reported that the satellite had been delivered to Russia and the launch was expected on March 12. The TV footage showed the departure ceremony for KompSat-3A at KARI on Nov. 25, 2014.

Despite KompSat's arrival to Russia, on February 2, the official RIA Novosti news agency reported that all Dnepr missions would be suspended altogether, as the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was escalating. Around 24 hours later, the same news agency quoted Aleksandr Serkin, the Director General of Kosmotras, which operates Dneprs, as saying that the company would fulfill all its international contracts, including the launch of Kompsat-3A in March and two more missions in 2015, therefore international clients "had nothing to worry about." Just four days later, the Russian government issued a Directive No. 176-r, giving a green light to the cooperative mission. On March 13, Kosmotras confirmed the launch date on March 25.



Above: Pre-launch processing of KompSat-3A satellite in Korea (top) and in Dombarovsky (bottom).



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The article and photography by Anatoly Zak

Last update: April 4, 2015

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A scale model of the Kompsat-3A satellite. Copyright © 2010 Anatoly Zak


Ascent trajectory for the Dnepr mission to deliver KompSat-3A satellite in March 2015. Credit: Kosmotras


An artist rendering of the KompSat-3A satellite in orbit. Credit: KARI



Images circulating at the turn of 2010s depicted the launch of the KompSat-3A satellite on the Korean KSLV rocket. The spacecraft was ultimately assigned to fly on Dnepr. Credit: KARI


Credit: YTN


KompSat-3A during its assembly. Credit: KARI