Launches of Elektron Satellites

Launch Date    Satellite     Incl   Period   Perigee   Apogee   Mass
                              deg     min       km       km      kg

1964 Jan 30    Elektron 1     61      169       406     7,100    329
               Elektron 2     61    1,360       460    68,200    444
     Jul 10    Elektron 3    60.5     168       405     7,040    350
               Elektron 4    60.5   1,314       459    66,236    444
Orbital data are taken from the launch announcement

On January 30, 1964 the Soviet Union launched its first dual satellite payload, Elektrons 1 and 2. They were launched from Tyuratam using the standard Vostok launcher. Elektron 1 entered an approximate 61 degrees, 406-7,100 km orbit and Elektron 2 was in a more eccentric 61 degrees, 460-68,200 km orbit - these being the parameters in the launch announcement. Elektron 1 was ejected from the Block E final stage of the launch vehicle while it was still burning. The two satellites were said to be transmitting on frequencies of 19.343 m/c, 19.954 m/c, 20.005 m/c, 30.0075 m/c and 90.0225 m/c.

The second pair of Elektron satellites was launched on July 10, 1964, and they seem to have been virtually identical with the first pair. The launch of the second pair of satellites was carefully times so that Elektrons 1 and 2 would be 180 degrees apart in orbital place: in addition when the launch came Elektron 4 was in the same orbital plane as Elektron 2 and thus Elektron 3 was 180 degrees away from Elektron 1.

Perhaps the orbital injection of Elektrons 3 and 4 was not quite asperfect as for Elektrons 1 and 2: for the first pair of flights the orbital period of Elektron 2 was virtually eight times that of Elektron 1 (the difference was 1.8 minutes), while that of Elektron 4 was 7.8 times that of Elektron 3.

Elektrons 1 and 2 differed in design: Elektron 3 was akin to Elektron 1 - but slightly heavier - and Elektron 4 was like Elektron 2.

Elektron 1 was a cylinder with six vanes of solar panels to supply power. At the base of the satellite were four parallel antennae and at the top were six radiating antennae. Elektron 1 had a body length of 1.3 metres and a diameter of 0.75 metres.

Elektron 2 was also basically cylindrical, but around its side it was covered by solar cells: the base of the satellite included a flair of solar cells with antennae trailing. At the top of the satellite was an extended boom with magnetometers together with lesser antennae. Elektron 2 had a body with a length of 2.4 metres and a diameter of 1.8 metres.

When they were launched the programme for Elektrons 1 and 2 was given as the "simultaneous study of the internal and external radiation belts of the Earth and the physical phenomena connected with them". A few days after the launch, it was said that the satellites would be observing:-

The launch of Elektrons 1 and 2 was said to be in connection with the International Year of the Quiet Sun, since in 1964 the Sun was expected to pass through it period of minimum activity.

The launch announcement for Eletrons 3 and 4 simply said that "the object of the launch is to continue the complex investigations the Earth's radiation belts, various types of radiation originating in the depths of space, the Earth's magnetic field and physical conditions in the upper layers of the atmosphere.

Although no Russian literature has alluded to such an application, in the West it has been widely reported that the Elektrons might have undertaken an early warning or nuclear explosion monitoring role, somewhat akin to that undertaken by the American Vela payloads. The Velas were launched to monitor the nuclear test ban agreements and entered approximately 100,000 km circular orbits.

There were no further launches in the Elektron programme (unless they failed to reach orbit), and it is possible that only two were scheduled specifically for the IYQS.


This has been extracted from an unpublished 1980 book manuscript by Phillip S. Clark: The Soviet Unmannned Space Programme.

Copyright 1994 by Phillip S. Clark.


The Vertikal Sub-Orbital Programme

These reviews are primarily concerned with the Soviet Union's satellite programmes, but under the Intercosmos programme a series of sub-orbital missions were flown from Kapustin Yar under the Vertikal programme. Since the payloads did not reach orbit, only brief notes will be made here for each flight. Initially the sub-orbital flights used the R-5 Probyeda missile (SS-3/Shyster in the West) as its single stage, but later flights used the R-14 (SS-5/Skean) missile.

All launch times are believed to be Moscow time (the time zone was not always stated in the launch announcements)..

Vertikal 1: launched November 28, 1970 at about 06.30. Peak altitude 487 km. Carried experiments from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic and Poland, studying geophysical matters including the X-ray spectrum and the concentration of electrons and ions, as well as electron temperatures. Used R-5..

Vertikal 2: launched August 20, 1971 at about 04.00. Peak altitude 463 km. Essentially a repeat of Vertikal 1, with experiments from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Hungary and Poland..

Vertikal 3: launched September 2, 1975 at 04.40. Peak altitude 502 km. Experiments from Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and German Democratic Republic. Studied solar short-wave radiation, as did most missions which followed. Final use of the R-5..

Vertikal 4: launched October 14, 1976 at 11.50. Peak altitude 1,512 km. Experiments from Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and German Democratic Republic. First use of R-14 launcher..

Vertikal 5: launched August 30, 1977. Peak altitude of about 500 km. Equipment from Czechoslovakia and Poland as well as Soviet Union. Additional experiments involved the study of micrometeorites..

Vertikal 6: launched October 25, 1977 at 12.15. Peak altitude about 1,500 km. Experiments from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hunday and Soviet Union. Flight lasted for about 30 minutes..

Vertikal 7: launched November 3, 1978 at 12.05. Peak altitude 1,500 km. Experiments from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Soviet Union..

Vertikal 8: launched September 26, 1979 at 03.20. Peak altitude 505 km. Experiments from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Soviet Union..

Vertikal 9: launched August 28, 1981 at 06.40. Peak altitude 505 km. Experiments from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Soviet Union..

Vertikal 10: launched December 21 1981. Peak altitude 1,510 km. Atmospheric and ionospheric studies with equipment from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Soviet Union..

Vertikal 11: launched October 20, 1983 at 07.25. Peak altitude 500 km. Solar radiation studies with experiments from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Soviet Union..

Although full details are not available for each flight, a Polish booklet "Polska w Kosmosie" (pub 1978) describes in diagrammatical form the flight of Vertikal 1. Following the launch, the rocket and payload reached an altitude of about 90 km, at which point the shperoid science capsule begins to make its scientific measurements when exposed to space. The vehicle coasts to an altitude of 487 km and descent begins. At about 100 km the capsule separates from the rocket and a parachute opens at 6 km allowing the recovery of the payload. Recovery takes place about 20 km downrange from the launch site..

Although the altitudes quoted above are probably typical of the missions which reached peak altitudes of about 500 km, they will not apply to higher altitude flights. For a peak of 1,500 km the separation of the rocket and capsule took place at about 175 km altitude..

In the case of Vertikal 1 the launcher and payload were about 23 metres long and 1.66 metres diameter and the payload mass was 1,300 kg..

Copyright 1994 by Phillip S. Clark.


This has been based upon an unpublished 1980 book manuscript by Phillip S. Clark: The Soviet Unmannned Space Programme. It has been updated with post-1980 missions compared with the original.


Comments and questions: Jennifer Green
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