The Soviet space program did not just include satellites for their premiere lunar missions and interplanetary probes, but also included many satellites directed at earth applications, both military and civilian. Most of the military satellites came under the cover of the Cosmos series, and include both reconnaissance and surveillance satellites, and other functions.
The direct earth application satellites include science, communications, and weather. Many of the scientific satellites were under the cover of the Cosmos series again, but also Prognoz series. Also in the 1970s, the Soviet Union initiated the Intercosmos series of satellites that were intentionally built to accommodate foreign payloads and sensors, primarily from the Eastern Block or Warsaw Pact nations.
In the areas of communications, it is said that Russian technology always trailed the United States by five years or so. But it was in the area of communications satellites that Russia pioneered the use of a new orbit that was named after the satellite, the Molniya or high inclination/elliptical orbit. Much of Russian territory is in the high northern regions where geosynchronous satellites might not reach. So the Molniya satellites were manufactured primarily to cover all of the Soviet Union, including these high northern regions. This particular series has gone through three versions, Molniya-1, Molniya-2, and Molniya-3. The next step was 24-hour or geosynchronous satellites. These were divided into several types: standard TV and communications, called Gorizont and Raduga, and direct broadcast called Ekran, which were initially developed in the 1970s.
Weather satellites in the Soviet Union were slow to develop. The United States started in 1960 with the Tiros series, but it wasnt until 1969 that the first Russian weather satellite, Meteor-1, was launched, and was viewed by President Charles DeGaulle of France. A second series called Meteor-2 began operations in 1975
Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email: [email protected]
Jim Rosalanka ([email protected])