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A second GEO telecommunications system initially hidden within the Kosmos program is the Satellite Data Relay Network (SDRN) which is analogous to the U.S. Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). Three Luch spacecraft (not to be confused with the Luch transponder system on Gorizont spacecraft) were launched between 1985 and 1989: Kosmos 1700, Kosmos 1897, and Kosmos 2054. Although three locations have been registered with the International Telecommunications Union (16 degrees W, 95 degrees E, and 160 degrees W), only the first two have been employed to date.

Each Luch spacecraft (also referred to as Altair satellites) has a mass of 2.4 metric tons and two extended solar arrays capable of supplying 1.8 kW. Three large antennas and numerous, small helical antennas permit date relays in the 15/14, 15/11, and 0.9/0.7 GHz bands. Terrestrial stations may employ simple 0.8-2 m antennas. The system is especially well suited for space-to-space communications, including the Mir space station and the now cancelled Buran space shuttle. The Luch spacecraft has a design lifetime of 5 years (References 308 and 309). The announcement, on October 26, 1985, of the launch of Cosmos 1700 included the phrase "experimental apparatus for relaying information by telegraph and telephone" and added that it operated in the centimeter waveband. (26) It took up station in geosynchronous orbit over 95°E, a location not used previously, but the central one of three locations registered with the IFRB for the ESDRN.

The first crew to the Mir orbital station in 1986 began their occupation on March 15, 1986. Two weeks later they tested a new radio-technical system ensuring reliable communications between themselves and the FCC via "a relay transmitter, the Luch (Cosmos 1700) satellite" deployed in GEO. It was reported that the new system would make it possible to expand the possibilities of controlling the functioning of the sophisticated research complex and increase the volume and timeliness of outgoing information.

During a trial communications session via the Luch relay satellite, the cosmonauts presented a television report about the Mir station, which was shown later in the "Vremya" TV news program. Use of the name, Luch (Beam or Ray), could cause some confusion since it had already been used for the name of a transponder on a Gorizont satellite. (27)

The satellite was said to make it possible for the ground measuring complex to be visible and for Mir to be visible for a fairly long time. Communications sessions, which previously were from 15-20 minutes with Salyut 7, and with difficulty 30 minutes, had been considerably expanded. The crew at the FCC has an opportunity to observe the station both by the radio mode and the television mode for a considerably longer time—for about 40 minutes. (28) Testing was reported again nine days later. (29)

Ivakhnov provided further details in an article which claimed that the volume of information transmission between Mir and the FCC was 10 times that from Salyut 7—due to the onboard computers. Tracking stations had to be re-outfitted before Mir was launched to cope with the increased flow.

After an explanation of how, from the position of Cosmos 1700 in geosynchronous orbit above the equator, approximately due south of Baikonur, it is possible to see nearly one-half of the globe, he went on to write that Mir had a narrow-beam antenna connected to a computer. When the location of the communications satellite was given to the computer, it issued the necessary commands to the control systems. From this moment on, the narrow-beam antenna would turn so that it was always "looking" at the satellite. In the same way Cosmos 1700 would be looking with its antennas at Mir. It would transmit all incoming information to a tracking station located near Moscow, on the outskirts of the FCC.

The first such period of communications was said to have taken place on March 29 when the television link between Earth, the communications satellite and Mir operated without trouble. (30)

The crew gave a press conference during two communications sessions, including a lengthy one with the use of the Luch relay satellite, on April 27 and were said to have assessed highly the possibilities of the new teleradio complex. (31, 32)

During the communications session on April 27, one of the cosmonauts said that "problems and failures also crop up. For instance, we had a major problem with the communications system, we could not adjust it for a long time, but now, as you see, we are talking without major interruptions, so this problem has been solved." (33)

The Kettering Group had suspected that the cosmonauts were experiencing some difficulty in obtaining reliable communications through the Luch satellite. Transmissions monitored between March 20 and April 14 frequently contained repetitions of "raz, dva, tri .. tri, dva, adin" (1, 2, 3 .. 3, 2, 1) as the crew struggled to maintain the correct attitude for antenna alignment. On July 1, shortly after their return to Mir from Salyut 7, one of the cosmonauts could be heard in the background going through the lining-up routine while the other cosmonaut was talking to the FCC over the normal downlink. Such routines were monitored until July 9, one week before the cosmonauts' return to Earth.

Additional information was provided by Belgium's Theo Pirard following the Moscow Space Future Forum. Use of Luch was described as being "more difficult than expected." Precise alignment of the Mir station was time-consuming and expensive in terms of propellant consumption. (34) In reply to another guest's inquiry as to why Luch was not in use, a Soviet official replied, "Even satellites need a rest." It was also indicated that the next Luch launch was planned for the first part of 1988.

Before the addition of Kvant with its gyroscope attitude stabilizers in 1987, orientation of Mir was effected by use of the reaction thrusters. This could explain the reference to the use of Luch being fuel-expensive.

Deputy flight director Blagov, in a paper describing Mir, provided more details. A diagram, captioned "This is how communications are implemented via the Luch relay transmitter satellite" depicts Luch as a Molniya-1 in geosynchronous orbit. Labels mark the beginning and end of the communications zone. The communications zone is labelled approximately 60 minutes and the radio shadow zone approximately 30 minutes.

The paper describes a unique training session using real objects and ground facilities in which the Mir station was moved out of the assembly and testing housing and its antenna aimed at the Luch satellite and all the communications modes were checked. (35)

Cosmos 1700 appeared to have failed in some respect toward the end of the summer of 1986 and began drifting off station. It was clear from the communications sessions monitored by the Kettering Group during 1987 that the cosmonauts were not using the Luch system. No lining-up routines were heard. It is possible that the geosynchronous launch failure at the end of January 1987 resulted in the loss of a replacement satellite for Cosmos 1700. No replacement appeared until November 26 when Cosmos 1897 was launched. Its initial orbital period of 1435 min was within one minute of that of Cosmos 1700 and the launch announcement included the same phrase "experimental apparatus for relaying information by telegraph and telephone" and again added that it operated in the centimeter waveband. (36) It is confidently anticipated that Cosmos 1897 will function as a data-relay satellite to support the permanent occupation of the Mir-Kvant orbital complex.

At the beginning of 1993 the only operational Luch spacecraft was Kosmos 2054, stationed at 16 degrees W. Finally, on 16 December 1994 Luch 1 was launched and later positioned at 95 degrees E. This 2-satellite network is now used primarily in support of the Mir space station program.

Two New Luch-5A & 5B Geosynchronous COMSAT  

The Russian Federations approved FSP 2006-2015 program requested the development and financing of the data relay satellites Luch-5A and Luch-5B to be built by the Information Satellite Systems/Reshetnyov once was known as the NPO PM of Krasnoyarsk. The COMSAT Data Relay satellites are being developed with Russian Express-1000 bus satellite platform with western companies providing some critical modernizing components. They will be launched on the Proton-M booster with a companion Israeli, Express-1000 bus based Amos-5 satellite to make up the total payload mass required even though they were originally planned for launch on the cheaper Soyuz-Fregat booster. Luch-5A was to be launched in the first half of 2011 while the second Luch-5B may be launched in 2012 with some companion satellite. This may turn out to be an Iranian COMSAT package. Further developments of the Express-2000 platform are to be the basis of the Luch-4 tentatively scheduled for launch on Proton-M in December 2013. These three global data relay satellites will in fact save Roskosmos a considerable fortune now paid NASA for the TDRS data relay services.

The placement of the Luch data relay system in 2017 will ensure communications independence and security at the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS), the system's developer said 08 November 2016. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the Gonets Satellite System company earlier in the day and got acquainted with the system. "Next year, we will be able to replace NASA’s [Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System] TDRSS in servicing the Russian segment of the ISS, which will allow us to ensure information independence and security, as well as to save about $10 million annually from the state budget," the company officials told Medvedev. © SPUTNIK/ OLEG URUSOV The data relay system comprises space-based repeaters and an infrastructure network on the ground. The company said the system would allow launching manned spacecraft and cargo ships without support from ground- and water-based technologies outside the Russian territory. It will provide uninterrupted communication with the ISS Russian segment as well as Earth-observation satellites in the low-altitude orbit.

The Pentagon held a series of meetings with experts and military personnel in late 2015 on the maneuvers of the Russian satellite Luch. It was at a distance of only a few kilometers from the satellites of Intelsat. "This is an abnormal behavior, and we are worried," said Intelsat president Kay Sears. She clarified that the "Ray" did not interfere with the work of the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 satellites. Presumably, the Russian satellite is between the devices for five months.

In September 2015, Luch several times closer to the satellites at a distance of 10 kilometers. As a result, representatives of Intelsat decided to apply to the Pentagon, and also sent a request to the Russian side. The answer to this appeal has not yet been received. According to other sources of Space News, the device three times approached the satellites Intelsat for a distance of up to five kilometers, RIA Novosti reported. As noted by Space News, some American experts believe that the incident is the first instance of such interaction between commercial and military spacecraft.

The Luch dual-purpose satellite was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome on September 28, 2014 on the Proton-M rocket. The device was ceated to provide communication with the Russian segment of the International Space Station and low-orbiting spacecraft. Intelsat is the largest satellite company in the world. She cooperates with the Pentagon in the space field. In 2014, US authorities expressed concern about the maneuvers of Russian satellites Cosmos 2499 and Kosmos 2504. The Pentagon claimed that the apparatus posed a potential threat to the American orbital grouping.


26. TASS, 1216 GMT, October 26, 1985.

27. Chausov, L. Pravda, May 7, 1984. p. 4. One of the satellites being used in the Dubna-Inter-cosmos space communications test program is the Luch-1, which is in geostationary orbit over the Atlantic Ocean.

28. Radio Moscow Home Service, 1430 GMT, March 29, 1986. [Incorporating the previous extract]

29. Izvestiya, March 30, 1986, p. 1.

30. Ivakhnov, A., Izvestiya, March 31, 1986, p. 3.

31. Radio Moscow World Service in English, 0700 GMT, April 7, 1986

32. TASS, 1424 GMT, April 8, 1986.

33. Radio Moscow Home Service, 1730 GMT, April 27, 1986.

34. Flight International, October 31, 1987, p. 17.

35. Blagov, V. D. Zemlya i Vselennaya, November-December 1986. p. 2-10.

36. TASS, 1425 GMT, November 27, 1987.

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