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The Sterkh rescue signal satellite


A scale model of the Sterkh satellite displayed at the ILA-2008 air and space show in Berlin in May 2008. A sister Nadezhda spacecraft can be seen on the left. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

The Sterkh satellite was designed to work with in the COSPAS-SARSAT network transmitting distress signals from ships and aircraft around the world to rescue centers. The spacecraft was under development at the PO Polyot enterprise in Omsk and after its merger with Khrunichev enterprise, the project was managed by the Moscow-based company.

Originally, the satellite was designed to function for five years in the 700-850-kilometer Sun-synchornous orbit with the inclination 97.3-98.8 degrees toward the Equator; however, apparently in the effort to cut cost of the launch, it was added as a "piggy back" to the Parus military navigation satellites heading to the 960-kilometer near-polar orbit with the inclination 83 degrees toward the Equator.

As its main payload, Sterkh carried an upgraded version of the emergency radio-transmission beacon designated RK-SM. A special deployable gravity-stabilization boom acted as a main axis of a gyro, to keep the spacecraft and its antennas constantly facing the Earth surface.

Known specifications of the Sterkh satellite:

Mass 170 kilograms*/160 kilograms**
Payload mass 55 kilograms
Maximum power supply capability 330 Watts
Dimensions in orbit with deployed solar panes and stabilization boom 967 x 2,957 x 10,393 millimeters
Dimensions under payload fairing 750 x 1,359 x 2,000 millimeters

*Khrunichev; **Roskosmos

Cosmos-3M launches a pair of satellites

Published: 2009 July 21

Russia launched a pair of satellites from its northern cosmodrome. The Cosmos-3M rocket lifted off on July 21, 2009, from Plesetsk, carrying two payloads, believed to be a Parus military navigation satellite and the Sterkh emergency rescue signal spacecraft. The mission was previously expected to take place in 2008.

Sterkh-2 mission

Published: 2009 Sept. 17

Russia hopes to jumpstart its space meteorology with the launch of a new-generation weather-forecasting satellite. The Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Site 31, on Sept. 17, 2009, at 19:55 Moscow Time, carrying the first of three Meteor-M spacecraft.

According to the ITAR-TASS news agency, the first stage of the launch vehicle was expected to impact in Aktubinsk and Kustanai regions of Kazakhstan, the second stage and payload fairing in Perm and Sverdlovsk regions, while the third stage, along with the Fregat upper stage and its multiple payloads would reach the initial Earth orbit.

Along with the Meteor-M No. 1 satellite, Soyuz-2-1b rocket carried six secondary payloads:

  • Sterkh-2 emergency rescue satellite built by PO Polyot. (Stopped operating shortly after launch.)
  • BLITS - A 7.53-kilogram nanosatellite consisting of two outer hemispheres made of a low-refraction-index glass. It is developed and manufactured by the IPIE center, under a 2006 agreement between Roskosmos and International Laser Ranging Service. The purpose of the mission is experimental verification of the spherical glass retroreflector satellite concept. A small spherical retroreflector of the same type (6cm in diameter) was flying onboard of the Meteor-3M satellite in 2001-2006.
  • SumbandilaSat (ZA-002) - An 81-kilogram South-African low-orbiting microsatellite will generate imagery through its remote sensing camera and will form an important part of the country's earth observation activities. The images yielded by the satellite will be used for flood and fire disaster management; enhancing food security through crop yield estimation; the prediction of the outbreaks of diseases; monitoring of land cover and use; and water resource management.
  • Universitetsky-Tatyana-2 - A 100-kilogram experimental and educational satellite for Moscow University, Russia.
  • UGATUSAT - A remote-sensing and educational satellite for the Ufa aviation and technical college, Russia, built by PO Polyot.
  • Iris - An experimental unit attached to the Fregat upper stage, built be NPO Lavochkin and designed to test an inflatable and solidifying material in space.

This mission was previously expected to take place as early as fourth quarter of 2007 and then was postponed to July 2008 and March 25, 2009. The first attempt to launch the mission on Sept. 15, 2009, had to scrubbed shortly before scheduled fueling of the launch vehicle, after a weather balloon registered unacceptably strong winds in the upper atmosphere. The second attempt for launch on Sept. 16, was also called off, due to a technical problem.

Roskosmos might seek new Sterkh contractor

Published: 2010 Jan. 21

Due to the failure of two Sterkh rescue navigation satellites soon after launch, Russian space agency, Roskosmos, could drop the project's main contractor -- NPO Polyot -- the head of the agency, Anatoly Perminov, told the official RIA Novosti news agency on January 19, 2010. Perminov confirmed previous unofficial reports about the failure of both Sterkh satellites. Perminov said that ground control still tried to retrieve useful engineering data from one of the satellites, however it was clear from his statement that neither spacecraft could be used operationally.

According to postings on the forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine in October 2009, a defect in the flight control system caused the first Sterkh satellite to orient its solar panels away from the Sun, thus draining the onboard power supply system. In the meantime, a second satellite was not able to maintain a proper attitude control in space due to the failure of a special stabilization boom to deploy. It was probably the second satellite, which, at least maintained contact with the ground.

By November 2012, Roskosmos canceled the Sterkh program, resorting instead to installing search and rescue payloads on GLONASS-K satellites.

Writing and photography by Anatoly Zak; last update: November 30, 2017

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A scale model of the Sterkh satellite displayed at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget in June 2009. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


A scale model of the Sterkh satellite displayed at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget in June 2009. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak



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