Sunday, April 19, 2015

Russia to Launch Persona-3 Reconnaissance Satellite NET June 5

Persona satellite. Credit:

Russian Aerospace Defence Forces plan to launch the newest Persona electro-optical reconnaissance satellite, also known as Kvarts (Quartz), onboard a Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket, not earlier than (NET) June 5, from site 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The rocket will fly in the Soyuz 2-1b configuration with a modernized digital flight control system and upgraded third stage engine. Persona-3, built by Progress State Research and Production Space Centre (TsSKB-Progress), derives from the Resurs DK commercial Earth observation satellite. It will carry a laser data-transmission system, BA MLSPI, which enables to send information to the ground via a special relay satellite located in a geostationary orbit. The launch of Persona-3 was initially scheduled for April 30.

Persona features an optical system called 17V321 provided by Russian LOMO company and the Vavilov State Optical Institute, developed from the system used on the Araks-N (Arkon) satellite. The imaging payload was based on one originally designed for the Sapfir-V high orbit imaging satellite project, which featured a 1.5 m primary mirror with a focal length of 20 meters. After Sapfir-V was cancelled, components for three payloads were transferred to Persona.

The previous Soviet/Russian reconnaissance satellite program, Yantar, relied on the return of capsules containing the exposed film with images taken by the satellite. This program started back in 1974 and its most recent flight took place from May to September 2012.

Persona uses a Yantar-derived bus and is designed to fit onto the Soyuz-2 rocket, which would launch it into a high-inclination orbit extending from pole to pole and enabling to photograph virtually any point on the Earth surface.

Images provided by Persona-3 will be used by the Reconnaissance Directorate of the Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.

According to the original plan, the first Persona satellite would have to be launched in 2004. However by 2002, technical problems pushed the inaugural flight to 2006. As the project struggled with delays and cost overruns, two other leading spacecraft developers - NPO Lavochkin and RKK Energia -proposed to launch a third Araks satellite as a stop-gap measure, as well as follow-on designs based on their own hardware. However, the Russian government chose to stick with the original plan. At the beginning of 2006, the launch of Persona was officially set for 2007, however all involved with the program knew that the project could be pushed as far back as 2009 or even 2010.

Persona satellite. Credit: Anatoly Zak/
Persona satellite. Credit: Anatoly Zak/

The first Persona satellite, identified as Kosmos 2441 (Russian military's nomenclature for satellites), was launched onto a sun synchronous orbit on July 26, 2008, atop a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. It failed to return useful imagery due to an electrical malfunction. It is hard to say exactly when the satellite failure occurred. However, the spacecraft has not been performing any orbit-correction maneuvers since mid-September 2008. In April 2009, radar tracking showed signs that Persona-1 had climbed slightly from its slowly decaying orbit and then quickly giving up around a half of this altitude gain. As a result of the failure, the spacecraft, designed to work for seven years, reportedly lost its capability to transmit images to the ground. Industry sources said that the failure of one critical avionics part had led to the crippling of the satellite. This component reportedly used imported low-cost electronics, which were not designed to withstand space radiation.

Using spare parts from the first satellite and implementing a number of improvements, TsSKB Progress, the main contractor for the Persona satellites, began work on the second Persona spacecraft. However without full-scale government funding, the work faced inevitable delays. In April 2011, an industry publication indicated that six gyroscopic orientation systems, known as SGK, had been "cannibalized" from the second Persona satellite in order to complete the assembly of the non-classified Resurs-P satellite.

Persona-2 (Kosmos 2486), was launched on June 7, 2013. The launch was delayed from 2012 by problems with attitude-control sensors. According to NORAD data, the satellite was deployed on an orbit with an apogee of 703 km, perigee of 187 km, inclination of 98.3, and orbital period of 93.48 minutes. The satellite, planned to operate for five to seven years, also failed after a short time in orbit, necessitating bringing back the older film-return Kobalt-M satellites into service to bridge the gap. Reportedly about half of the memory capacity of the on board computer has failed. In 2014, the satellite was reactivated and new software was uploaded to provide a workaround to the crippled memory.

Persona-2 came back to life just in time for the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which led to the Malaysian Airlines' Flight MH17 tragedy on July 17, 2014. The Russian Ministry of Defense released a series of satellite images to support the Russian version of events, blaming Ukraine for the tragedy. The Russian officials presented these photos as a proof that Ukraine could've been in control of the missile battery responsible for the MH17 disaster.

The June 5 lift off will be the 4th launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome this year.

After the third Persona mission, the satellite will be either replaced by a second generation Persona series or a new developed series of imaging satellites.

Russia operates a network of about 60-70 military reconnaissance satellites, featuring updated imaging technology and an extended lifetime of up to seven years, according to open sources.

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