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Russia and Communications Satellite Systems

For the 20-year period from 1975 through 1994 the Russian Federation (prior to 1992, the Soviet Union) conducted an average of 16 communications missions each year. With the use of multiple-satellite launches, more than 600 individual spacecraft were placed in Earth orbit during this period into one of three regimes (see side bar):

On a daily basis in 1994, approximately 80 communications satellites, from 250-2,500 kg, were operational.

The "Russian Federal Space Program to the Year 2000" identifies nearly twenty new satellite communications systems. Networks receiving federal support in addition to commercial financing include Arkos, Express-M, GalsR, Gonets, Mayak, Signal, and Yamal. Those which must secure complete commercial backing are Bankir, Express, Gals, Gelikon, Globsat, Kondor, Koskon, Kuryer, Nord, Sokol, SPS Sputnik, and Zerkalo.

During 1993-1994, 27 launches involving 47 communications satellites were undertaken, or 29% of all Russian space missions. Despite one launch failure, 27 LEO, 7 highly elliptical, and 12 GEO spacecraft were successfully deployed. While these numbers represent about half of the operational network (an acceptable 2-year turnover), some specific constellations have become increasingly populated with spacecraft operating beyond their design lifetimes. This situation is especially apparent in GEO.


By Lani Hummel Raleigh*



1. International Links

(a) Intersputnik System.—At the 1968 United Nations-sponsored meeting on the peaceful uses of outer space, the Russians unveiled their plans for an international consortium known as Intersputnik which would rival the Intelsat system in providing communications services. At Vienna the Russians discussed their future plans for Intersputnik which included progressing from the Molniya satellites to an advanced 24-hour synchronous system. The Russians did not discuss technical details but said that the satellite's operation would be compatible with the Intelsat system and that the satellite would be quite large and have a high power output. (17)

On November 15, 1971 , nine countries signed an agreement in Moscow to establish the Intersputnik system. Parties to the agreement are: Bulgaria , Cuba , Czechoslovakia , East Germany , Hungary , Mongolia , Poland , and Romania .

The first direct television transmission from the U.S.S.R. to Cuba was performed November 7, 1973 with the telecast of the Red Square Parade. Later, telecasts of Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev's state visit to Cuba were relayed to Moscow . The Intersputnik system was formally inaugurated in February 1974 with the commencement of regular relays, via Molniya 2 satellite, between Cuba and Russia . Telecasts were relayed by the Caribe Earth station, equipped with a 12 meter dish antenna and located 30 kilometers from Havana in Haruco. Later, a Czechoslovakian station in Prague was completed on the eve of the 1974 May Day celebrations, and, an Ulan-Bator, Mongolia station was finished before the October celebrations of the same year.

(b) U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cooperation—The, Soviet Union has constructed a major Earth terminal close to L'vov in the Ukraine near the Polish border to operate in international commercial communications with Intelsat. The Russians have purchased from ITT Space Communications (International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation) twelve duplex voice-grade channels of Spade terminal equipment that makes possible operation with satellites on a demand-assignment basis. ITT-U.S.S.R. negotiations on the Spade equipment developed during the Washington-Moscow hotline discussions (see below). With Spade terminal equipment, the communicator can utilize satellite channels that may remain unused for long periods. Spade equipment installed at the L'vov station would give the U.S.S.R. direct access on a demand assignment basis to 25 similarly equipped stations in the United States , Canada , Peru , Brazil , Argentina , United Kingdom , Netherlands , France , Italy , Greece , Switzerland , West Germany , and Sweden . (18)

(c) Washington-Moscow Hotline.—The United States and U.S.S.R. on September 30, 1971 signed accords on the prevention of accidental warfare which authorized the establishment of a new Washington-Moscow "hotline" via satellite. The main objective of a satellite link would be increased reliability. Although the terrestrial hotline, which was established as a result of the Cuban missile crisis, has never been a target of planned sabotage, it has been subject to occasional disruption, with sections of the cable blacked out by fire, pilfered, and once plowed by a Finnish farmer.

The hotline system consists of two duplex telephone-bandwidth circuits equipped for secondary telegraphic multiplexing and four ground stations for transmission and reception. One circuit is on the Molniya system and the other is on the Intelsat system. Encoded teletype messages will go from the United States to Moscow in English via the Intelsat system and from Moscow to the United States in Russian via Molniya 3 satellites.

Originally, the Russians intended to use a station in the suburbs of Moscow for Intelsat and a Molniya station at Vladimir . However, because of severe winter weather conditions in the Soviet Union , the Russians have constructed a second Intelsat station, approximately 50 miles from L'vov, to ensure increased dependability. (18a) The United States has a Molniya station at Fort Detrick in Frederick , Maryland , and an Intelsat station at Etam , West Virginia .

Although Soviet and American communications experts have successfully tested the new network, the system is not scheduled to begin operation until the second half of 1976. The actual operation of the system awaits the launch of a fourth functioning Molniya 3 satellite. (18b)

(d) "Mars" Portable Ground Station.—The Soviet "Mars" portable ground station for the Molniya communications satellite system was first used in November 1973 to transmit television broadcasts to the Soviet Union of Brezhnev's visit to India. The Mars station was also used in Ulan Bator during the festivities for the 50th anniversary of the Mongolian Peoples Republic to transmit television programs between the Soviet and Mongolian capitals. It has also relayed television signals from Havana and Sofia .

The air-transportable, truck-mounted unit has a 7-meter dish antenna and contains essentially the same elements as the orbital permanent ground stations for Molniya. The large power output of the Molniya satellites makes the use of this small transportable station possible. Mars, which can be moved from point to point while semi-deployed, has a capacity of one color television image and one audio channel. A distinctive feature of the portable station is its capability to operate with satellites which are either in an elliptical or geo-stationary orbit.

2. Joint Experiments with France

Like much of the rest of the world, the Soviet Union 'has not only had a rapid expansion of television services, but has moved toward use of color broadcasts, although not at so fast a pace as the United States and Japan . After studying various technical alternatives to the achievement of color, the Soviet authorities selected the French SEGAM 3 system, which they now build under license.

The Russians have also demonstrated color television exchanges with France via Molniya 1, using the main ground station at Moscow , while the French used their Intelsat station at Pleumeur Bodou in France . By this means, the video portion of a color program was sent on November 29, 1965 from Moscow to Paris . A return broadcast was made from Paris to Moscow on May 28, 1966 . There followed thirteen days of additional tests in both directions.

In 1966, when General De Gaulle visited Moscow , Molniya 1 was used not only to broadcast the program to Soviet outlets, but also was relayed to Paris .


Soviet radio engineers and communications specialists are studying the optimum relationship between the power of on-board transmitters and the scale of the equipment at ground stations for the reception of information. The greater the power of the on-board transmitter, the simpler are the ground antennas and the receiving equipment. However, this is compensated for by a complication of the satellite and an increase in its weight. Thus the question of alternative communication distribution systems arises. One alternative is the use of one relatively large antenna along with ground channels as is done in the Orbital system. Another alternative is the use of a more powerful satellite with receivers in each populated place similar to the Indian approach. Both these directions are technically feasible. (19)

Eventually, the power of the on-board transmitters could be increased to sufficient strength for direct television broadcasting from space. However, Soviet views on direct broadcasting from space are ambivalent. They have referred to such plans as means of aggression. They reason that such programming might involve the spread of hostile propaganda and would circumvent the carefully controlled programming now under the jurisdiction of the individual states. These fears inspired a Soviet-sponsored proposal on direct broadcast television satellites which would authorize any receiving nation to destroy or jam the satellite if it judged the broadcast illegal or erroneous. In the draft treaty presented to the United Nations by Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko on October 12, 1972 specific illegal areas would include those that: were detrimental to the maintenance of international peace and security; interfered in intrastate conflicts; encroached on fundamental human rights; presented violent, horror oriented, pornographic and drug propaganda; were against the foundations of local civilization, culture, mores or traditions; or presented misinformation. The sole judge of the illegality would be the receiver nation. (20)

At the same time the Russians have discussed in glittering generalities the vast potential of direct broadcast from satellites. According to academician Boris Petrov:

Thanks to ... direct transmissions of television programmes through sputniks to conventional television

aerials, it will be possible to have a wider dissemination of scientific, medical and health and agricultural knowledge. Space television will become available to the population even in the most remote parts of the world. (21)

And, more recently, Oleg Belotserkovets, rector of the Moscow Technical Institute of Physics announced:

Soviet specialists have developed devices which will make it possible in the near future to receive television broadcasts from communications satellites directly through house aerials . . . The quality of the broadcasts will improve . . .

when this work is completed there will be practically no places left in the country inaccessible to television reception. (22)

One of these "devices" could be the use of nuclear powered broadcasts. In 1972 it was announced that a nuclear power source was successfully tested in one of the Kosmos satellites. More powerful atomic reactors were to be installed on future sputniks which would enable the satellites to transmit a signal of such strength that reception directly on the television set antenna, without previous reinforcement at the Orbital station, would be possible. (23)



17. Aviation Week and Space Technology, New York , August 26, 1968 , p. 19-20.

18. Aviation Week and Space Technology, New York , September 22, 1975 , p. 9.

18a. Undated State Department Press Release Issued by the Direct Communications Link (DCL) Delegation.

18b. “Soviet and the U.S. Are Shifting Hot Line to Satellite Systems," Christopher Wren, New York Times, March 23, 1976 .

19. Konovalov, B., Lightning-Quick Communication, Izvestiya, Moscow , December 31,

1974, p.5

20. Aviation Week and Space Technology, New York , October 23, 1972 , p. 20.

21. Pravda,. Moscow , December 30, 1969 .

22. Oleg Belotserkovets, TASS, Moscow , July 1, 1974 , 1205 GMT.

23. Moscow Radio, February 7, 1972 , 0930 GMT.

• Ms. Raleigh Is a physical sciences analyst In the Science Policy Research Division, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress.

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