Launch of Zenit-3F rocket with Elektro-L satellite atop is scheduled on 11th December 2015. Planned launch site is LC-45 in Baikonur Kosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
After regaining independence from Soviet Union in 1991 Ukraine inherited part of soviet industrial and military potential. In spite of mining and steel industry on east, collectivized agriculture on the west Ukraine was in possession of about thirty percent of soviet nuclear weapon with strategic bombers and rockets. Good example of contrast between Ukrainian industry and backward agriculture is Antonov design bureau. Famous for its potential for creating impressive cargo planes, Antonov designed plane for transporting soviet space shuttle, Buran and it’s lifting rocket Energia (An 225 Mriya, biggest plane ever manufactured and remaining operational). Plane is well known because of many world records in category of lift and own mass. In contrast to engineering achievements (which were not so important for ordinary Ukrainian citizens) Ukraine society struggled with problems of empty shelfs in shops. In such case it should not be surprising fact that government was trying to look for any kind of chance to push national economy forward. Luckily, in spite of aviation industry on Ukraine remained part of soviet space industry – Yuzhnoye Design Office of Ukraine, founded in 1951 by Mikhail Yangel in Dnipropetrovsk. In central planned soviet industry, Yuzhnoye was responsible mainly for designing and manufacturing ICBM. After 1991 and collapse of USSR, Ukraine remain alone and cut off from their main sales market for industry – Soviet Army. ICBM first became a burden and after Ukraine agreed for returning all nuclear weapon to Russia, production of ICBM became senseless. But develop of civilian space market was next lucky strike for Ukraine. As it was mantion before, Yuzhnoye was responsible mainly for ICBM, but in eighties there has been a turnaround in connection with the development of the project soviet space shuttle, Buran. Engineers were ordered to start designing liquid rocket boosters for Energia rocket (lifting rocket for Buran). It was beginning of Zenit rocket family – in spite of being liquid fuel booster, Zenit was able to act as stand-alone middle launcher and in future was planned as replacement of Soyuz rockets as a launcher for manned missions. USSR collapse stopped develop of Zenit, but even in it’s basic form rocket was great success – since nineties most of Russian satellites are launched utilizing Zenit rockets in different versions. But cooperation with Russia is not only way of development. Yuzhnoye became well known contractor for rocket engines (specially adopted from post military ICBM) and manufacturer of rocket stages. It is enough to mention that second stage of Vega rocket utilized in launch of IXV project (ESA spaceplane prototype) was utilizing RD-843 engine adopted from SS-18 missile designed by Yuzhnoye. First stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket was based on Zenit and manufactured in Yuzhmash (factory connected with Yuzhnoye). Ukrainian rockets were used by Sea Launch – company founded by Energia (Russia), Boeing Commercial Space (USA), Aker Solutions (Norway) and SDO Yuzhnoye / PO Yuzhmash (Ukraine). It was offering launch services from sea platform in California (Sea Launch was utilizing Zenit rockets). Another interesting project was (have origins in soviet MAKS project of reusable launch system) Svityaz program. It was planned to offer on civilian market possibility of launching spacecrafts directly from modified An 225 Mriya. But still, one of the most important cooperation was still between Ukraine and Russia (maybe perhaps stemming little of the political situation on Ukraine in late nineties), which was main customer for Zenit rockets. Both countries seemed to be satisfied from cooperation. A sign of deepening cooperation was Dnepr project – SS-18 missile converted for commercial purposes in 1999 and operated by ISC Kosmotras (joint between Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan). Kind of acknowledgment of the position of Ukraine as important and independent player on space market was agreement signed in 2005 with ESA about participation in GALILEO program. It coincided with Orange Revolution on Ukraine and deterioration of relations with Russia. For next couple years it seemed that Ukrainian space industry benefits from cooperation with both, western and eastern partners. But growing competitor with increasing contribution in European and American ventures starting to became threat for Russia position in the market. Critical for cooperation of Russia and Ukraine was 2014 and military crisis between both countries. After overtaking by Energia in 2010 Sea Launch company announced in 2014 about cancelling operational activity in 2015. Dnepr project was cancelled in 2015 officially because of Ukraine space program problems. Deep crisis in Ukrainian space industry crisis became a fact in January 2015 when employees started working byonly three days a week and receive salary at $200 to $300. This is how unparalleled combination of central planning heritage, experience in ICBM designing , favorable trends in the world and foreign politics became significant for development of Ukrainian space industry – today maybe it is going to become its death knell.
Mission planned on 11th December of 2015 is part of modernization and restoration Russian weather satellites. Before, with only one weather satellite operational, Russia was forced to cooperate with American and European weather agencies. Satellite was designed in NPO Lavochkin will be operated by Roscocosmos. First satellite was launched in 2011, second was planned to be launched in 2013, but date was changed to 18th November 2015 and delayed to 11th December 2015 Elektro-L weighs 1620 kg with payload capacity at 435 kg. It requires 700 W of power, which is provided by solar panels (giving 1.7 kW of power). Optical sensors are working in resolution at 1 km per pixel in two visible bands. In eight infra-red bands resolution is 4 km per pixel. It is able to take one picture per thirty minutes, but if necessary it is possible to short intervals to ten minutes. For communication it utilizes X-band at 7.5 Ghz with data transfer rate around 2.56-15.36 Mbits per second.
Roscosmos is going to use Zenit-3F rocket. It was used in 2011 during first launch of Elektro satellite. Core of the rocket (Zenit-2M) is combined with Russian upper stage called Fregat-SB (designed and manufactured by NPO Lavochkin). Core is powered by liquid fueled RD-171 engine with thrust at 8180 kN. Second stage is powered by two liquid fueled engines RD-8(thrust at 79.5 kN) and RD-120 (thrust at 912 kN). Third stage is Fregat-SB is powered by S5.92 engine with thrust at 19.61 kN. It’s height is 1.5 m and diameter is 3.35 m. Rocket’s length is 69.6m with diameter at 3.9 m, it weighs 471000 kg and offers payload capacity at 4000 kg for GTO missions.