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US-K (73D6)


The US-K spacecraft are the high-elliptical-orbit component of the soviet/Russian Oko and Oko-1 early warning systems.

A US-K spacecraft consists of three main subsystems: engine block, device compartment, and optical compartment. All the systems are mounted on a cylindrical frame that is 2 m long and has diameter of 1.7 m. Total mass of a satellite at launch is estimated to be 2400 kg, of which 1250 kg is dry mass. The engine compartment of an Oko satellite includes fuel and oxidizer tanks, four orbit correction liquid-fuel engines and 16 orientation and stabilization liquid-fuel engines. The stabilization engines provide active 3-axis attitude control, necessary for telescope orientation.

The telescope system of a first-generation satellite includes a telescope with a mirror of about 50 cm diameter. The detection system includes a linear or matrix infrared-band solid-state sensor that detects radiation from missiles. In addition to this, the satellite has several smaller telescopes that most likely provide a wide-angle view of the Earth in infrared and visible parts of spectrum, which is used by operators of the system as an auxiliary observation channel. The satellite transmits the images formed by its telescopes directly to the ground control station in real time.

Launches of early-warning satellites into highly elliptical orbits are performed by Molniya-M launchers from the Plesetsk launch site in the northern Russia.

In the beginning of the program, there were serious problems with reliability of the satellites. Of the first 13 satellites, launched in 1972–1979, only seven worked more than 100 days. The satellites were equipped with a self-destruct package that was activated if the satellite lost communication with ground control. Until these packages were removed in 1983, 11 out of 31 satellites were destroyed that way.

Some first-generation satellites were launched into geosynchronous orbit by the Proton launchers under the designation US-KS. These launches, which were conducted from the Baykonur launch site, were all successful.

The choice of observation geometry and of the highly elliptical orbits has been usually attributed to the lack of proper infrared sensors and data processing capabilities that are required for obtaining a look-down capability. According to this logic, in the absence of suitable sensors, the Soviet Union had to rely on a the grazing-angle observation geometry, which allowed the use of less sophisticated sensors than those used by the United States.

The system was configured in such a way that a satellite would be placed into an orbit that had inclination of about 63 degrees. The orbits have apogees of about 39,700 km and perigees of about 600 km. A satellite on this orbit has orbital period of approximately 718 minutes, and makes exactly two revolutions a day.

Since one satellite can be in a position that allows it to detect missile launches only for about six hours a day, providing 24-hour coverage of the U.S. ICBM bases requires at least four working satellites. The system, however, was designed to include up to nine satellites simultaneously. Satellites in the constellation were placed into one of nine orbital planes, which were separated by about 40 degrees from each other.

One reason the system was designed to include satellites in nine separate orbital planes was to increase its reliability and to make sure that a loss of one satellite would not create a gap in coverage. A more important reason, however, was that the chosen configuration made it possible for several satellites to observe the same area simultaneously. The advantage of this is that simultaneous observation is that it reduces the chances that all the satellites that are in a position to detect a launch could be simultaneously blinded by direct sunlight or reflections off clouds.

Beginning in 1984, the constellation of HEO early warning satellites was complemented by satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Satellites that were placed into geosynchronous orbit were the same first-generation satellites that were deployed in highly elliptical orbits. A satellite placed into the point with longitude of 24 degrees on geosynchronous orbit would see missile launches from U.S. territory at exactly the same angles as an HEO satellite during the working part of its orbit. In addition, a geosynchronous satellite has the advantage of not changing its position relative to the Earth, so one satellite can provide continuous backup of the HEO constellation.

The introduction of geostationary satellites made the system considerably more robust, for it became much more tolerant to a loss of HEO satellites. As was already discussed, without the GEO satellite the system cannot provide continuous coverage of the U.S. territory with fewer than four satellites. With the GEO satellite present, the system could still detect launches even if there are no HEO satellites deployed. The quality of coverage may suffer and detection may not be reliable enough, but the system would not be completely blind.

The first satellite that was placed into the highly elliptical orbit characteristic of the early-warning satellites was Kosmos-520, launched on 19 September 1972. The exact nature of its mission is unclear, since there are not enough data to see if the satellite performed any maneuvers or orbit corrections, but it was reported to be a success.

In the following three years there were four more launches on highly-elliptical orbits, all of which seem to have been experimental. In addition to this, the Soviet Union conducted an experimental launch of one of the early warning satellites, Kosmos-775, into a geostationary orbit.

Beginning in 1977, the Soviet Union undertook a series of launches that seemed to be an effort to built a working prototype of the early warning system. In contrast with previous launches, which sometimes placed satellites into non-standard orbits, in the series that began in 1977 satellites were placed into orbits that would allow them to work together. The resulting constellation was still experimental, for the satellites were deployed on orbits in such a way that their groundtracks were shifted about 30 degrees westward from the position that will later become nominal. The satellites in those orbits could not detect launches from operational ICBM bases. Most likely they were observing test launches of U.S. missiles from the Vandenberg Air Force base, since they would be able to see them under observation conditions that were very similar to the nominal ones.

Judging by the history of deployment, the prototype system was to include four satellites that would provide the minimum capability, ensuring that at least one satellite was in a position to detect a launch at any given moment. However, because of the series of malfunctions and failures, it was not until 1980 that the number of working satellites reached four.

In 1984 the Soviet Union began the program of deploying early warning satellites in geosynchronous orbit. As discussed above, at that point these US-KS satellites were the same first-generation satellites that were deployed in highly-elliptical orbits and that were limited to the grazing-angle observation geometry. Nevertheless, deployment of these satellites in geosynchronous orbit must have significantly increased the overall reliability of the system.

The first operational early-warning satellite in geosynchronous orbit was Kosmos-1546. In May 1984 it reached the point with longitude of 24 degrees west from which it was able to detect launches of U.S. ICBMs.

Nation: USSR / Russia
Type / Application: Early warning
Contractors: TsNII Kometa (prime); NPO Lavochkin (spacecraft)
Power: 2 deployable fixed solar arrays, batteries
Mass: 2400 kg
Orbit: Molniya or GEO
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
Kosmos 520 (US-K #1) 1972-072A 19.09.1972 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 606 (US-K #2) 1973-084A 02.11.1973 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 665 (US-K #3) 1974-050A 29.06.1974 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 706 (US-K #4) 1975-007A 30.01.1975 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 862 (US-K #5) 1976-105A 22.10.1976 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 903 (US-K #6) 1977-027A 11.04.1977 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 917 (US-K #7) 1977-047A 16.06.1977 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 931 (US-K #8) 1977-068A 20.07.1977 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1024 (US-K #9) 1978-066A 28.06.1978 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1030 (US-K #10) 1978-083A 06.09.1978 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1109 (US-K #11) 1979-058A 27.06.1979 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1124 (US-K #12) 1979-077A 28.08.1979 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1164 (US-K #13) 1980-013A 12.02.1980 Pl LC-43/4 P Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1172 (US-K #14) 1980-028A 12.04.1980 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1188 (US-K #15) 1980-050A 14.06.1980 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1191 (US-K #16) 1980-057A 02.07.1980 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1217 (US-K #17) 1980-085A 24.10.1980 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1223 (US-K #18) 1980-095A 27.11.1980 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1247 (US-K #19) 1981-016A 19.02.1981 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1261 (US-K #20) 1981-031A 31.03.1981 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1278 (US-K #21) 1981-058A 19.06.1981 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1285 (US-K #22) 1981-071A 04.08.1981 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1317 (US-K #23) 1981-108A 31.10.1981 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1341 (US-K #24) 1982-016A 03.03.1982 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1348 (US-K #25) 1982-029A 07.04.1982 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1367 (US-K #26) 1982-045A 20.05.1982 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1382 (US-K #27) 1982-064A 25.06.1982 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1409 (US-K #28) 1982-095A 22.09.1982 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1456 (US-K #29) 1983-038A 25.04.1983 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1481 (US-K #30) 1983-070A 08.07.1983 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1518 (US-K #31) 1983-126A 28.12.1983 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1541 (US-K #32) 1984-024A 06.03.1984 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1547 (US-K #33) 1984-033A 04.04.1984 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1569 (US-K #34) 1984-055A 06.06.1984 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1581 (US-K #35) 1984-071A 03.07.1984 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1586 (US-K #36) 1984-079A 02.08.1984 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1596 (US-K #37) 1984-096A 07.09.1984 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1604 (US-K #38) 1984-107A 04.10.1984 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1658 (US-K #39) 1985-045A 11.06.1985 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1661 (US-K #40) 1985-049A 18.06.1985 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1675 (US-K #41) 1985-071A 12.08.1985 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1684 (US-K #42) 1985-084A 24.09.1985 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1687 (US-K #43) 1985-088A 30.09.1985 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1698 (US-K #44) 1985-098A 22.10.1985 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1701 (US-K #45) 1985-105A 09.11.1985 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1729 (US-K #46) 1986-011A 01.02.1986 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1761 (US-K #47) 1986-050A 05.07.1986 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1774 (US-K #48) 1986-065A 28.08.1986 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1783 (US-K #49) 1986-075A 03.10.1986 Pl LC-41/1 P Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1785 (US-K #50) 1986-078A 15.10.1986 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1793 (US-K #51) 1986-091A 20.11.1986 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1806 (US-K #52) 1986-098A 12.12.1986 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1849 (US-K #53) 1987-048A 04.06.1987 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1851 (US-K #54) 1987-050A 12.06.1987 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1903 (US-K #55) 1987-105A 21.12.1987 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1922 (US-K #56) 1988-013A 26.02.1988 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1966 (US-K #57) 1988-076A 30.08.1988 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1974 (US-K #58) 1988-092A 03.10.1988 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 1977 (US-K #59) 1988-096A 25.10.1988 Pl LC-41/1 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2001 (US-K #60) 1989-011A 14.02.1989 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2050 (US-K #61) 1989-091A 23.11.1989 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2063 (US-K #62) 1990-026A 27.03.1990 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2076 (US-K #63) 1990-040A 28.04.1990 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2084 (US-K #64) 1990-055A 21.06.1990 Pl LC-43/3 P Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2087 (US-K #65) 1990-064A 25.07.1990 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2097 (US-K #66) 1990-076A 28.08.1990 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2105 (US-K #67) 1990-099A 20.11.1990 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2176 (US-K #68) 1992-003A 24.01.1992 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2196 (US-K #69) 1992-040A 08.07.1992 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2217 (US-K #70) 1992-069A 21.10.1992 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2222 (US-K #71) 1992-081A 25.11.1992 Pl LC-43/3 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2232 (US-K #72) 1993-006A 26.01.1993 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2241 (US-K #73) 1993-022A 06.04.1993 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2261 (US-K #74) 1993-051A 10.08.1993 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2286 (US-K #75) 1994-048A 05.08.1994 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2312 (US-K #76) 1995-026A 24.05.1995 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2340 (US-K #77) 1997-015A 09.04.1997 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2342 (US-K #78) 1997-022A 14.05.1997 Pl LC-43/4 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2351 (US-K #79) 1998-027A 07.05.1998 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2368 (US-K #80) 1999-073A 27.12.1999 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2388 (US-K #81) 2002-017A 01.04.2002 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2393 (US-K #82) 2002-059A 24.12.2002 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2422 (US-K #83) 2006-030A 21.07.2006 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2430 (US-K #84) 2007-049A 23.10.2007 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2446 (US-K #85) 2008-062A 02.12.2008 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)
Kosmos 2469 (US-K #86) 2010-049A 30.09.2010 Pl LC-16/2 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)


  • P. Podvig: History and the current status of the Russian early warning system, Science and Global Security, Vol. 10, No. 1 (2002)
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