Soyuz 2-1B launches third Persona-1 spy satellite

A Russian Soyuz 2-1B launch vehicle has successfully launched with the third and possibly final Persona-1 reconnaissance satellite – also known as Kvarts – into space on Tuesday. The launch was conducted at 16:44 GMT from launch pad 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia under the usual secrecy of a military launch.

Persona-1 History And Mission:

The first and only completely new class of Russian photoreconnaissance satellite to fly after 2000 has been in the Persona-1 series.

While the name Persona has been widely used, the satellite is also known as Kvarts – according to Russiaspaceweb’s Anatoli Zak – based on reports of Persona-1 and Persona-2 variants. As such, the name Persona could be the design bureau designator – such as Yantar – for a family of satellites.

Kvarts is the Ministry name for this specific satellite variant.

2015-06-23-161314The story of the Persona-1/Kvarts satellite can be traced back to the TsSKB Progress proposal in 1979 for the Sapfir-V project.  The original proposal involved a 16 tonnes satellite that would be launched by the Buran space shuttle orbiter and possibly serviced in orbit by cosmonauts.

Subsequently, Sapfir-V was scaled back to become a 14 tonnes satellite that could be launched using either the Zenit-2 or Proton-K launch vehicles. These rockets would be capable of launching Sapfir-V into an orbit with an apogee of 10,000-20,000 km.

Utilizing the Zenit-2 rocket would be difficult due to lift capacity, whereas the four-stage Proton-K would be more suited – although the Blok D(M) fourth stage would have to be modified because the satellite would be about twice as heavy as any other payload carried atop a Blok D(M).

There were also plans for a radar surveillance satellite to be launched to supplement the data being returned by Sapfir-V.

The LOMO company in Leningrad worked on three optical telescopes, designated 17V321, which were planned to be flown on Sapfir-V, with the actual manufacture of the 1.5 metres diameter mirrors being undertaken by the Lytkarin Plant of Optical Glass.

At the time, TsSKB Progress had too many differentiating programs demanding its attention and in January 1989 it was decided to delay the first flight of Sapfir-V until 1991. The program also suffered from the funding constraints after the demise of the Soviet Union, although it was not actually cancelled until the late 1990s.

2015-06-23-161444At the time of the Sapfir-V cancellation, TsSKB decided to use the three mirrors developed for the cancelled program for a new, smaller satellite which could be launched using the then-forthcoming Soyuz-2 class of launch vehicles – utilizing the improved technologies that had been developed in the post-Soviet era.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the Russian government was considering two proposals for satellites that could replace the electro-optical Neman satellites which were on the point of retirement.

NPO Lavochkin proposed a satellite using the optical system developed for Araks-N, while the TsSKB Progress proposal was for a variant of the then-future Resurs-DK remote sensing satellite – which itself was based upon a much improved and upgraded Neman design – but using the mirrors, if not the full imaging system developed for Sapfir-V.

2015-06-23-161122TsSKB Progress was awarded the contract to develop the new satellite, which would become known as Persona.

The mass of the proposed Persona/Kvarts satellite was in excess of seven tonnes and it would be launched into Sun-synchronous orbits using one of the forthcoming Soyuz-2 variants. This would be the first Russian (or Soviet) photoreconnaissance satellite to be launched into such an orbit.

The new satellite would be capable of transmitting high-resolution images while operating for a planned seven years.

The Russians have not revealed the appearance of the Kvarts satellite, but reconstructions have been published, based upon ground-based photography of the satellite.

2015-06-23-162325Two Persona’s have been launched thus far, the first in 2008 and the latest in June 2013 – both of which resulted in a successful deployment following their respective rides on the Soyuz 2-1B

The Soyuz-2-1 rocket is a descendent of the R-7 Semyorka, the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 was designed by Sergei Korolev, and first flew in 1957. A modified version was used to launch the first satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October of that year.

The R-7 formed the basis for the Luna, Vostok, Voskhod, Molniya and Soyuz families of rockets, and to date all Soviet and Russian manned spaceflights have been launched using rockets derived from the R-7.

The Soyuz Launch VehicleThe Soyuz, which first flew in 1966, was a modification of the Voskhod rocket featuring an upgraded and lighter telemetry system, and more fuel efficient engines. It was initially used to launch only Soyuz spacecraft; however with the introduction of the Soyuz-U in 1973 it began to launch other satellites as well.

The Soyuz-U, which remains in service, is the most-flown orbital launch system ever developed, having made over 750 flights to date, plus around 90 more in the Soyuz-U2 configuration optimized to use synthetic propellant.

The Soyuz-2 was developed from the older Soyuz models and features digital flight control systems and modernized engines. It first flew in 2004, and this is its twelfth launch.

Two variants are currently in service; the Soyuz-2-1A, and the Soyuz-2-1B. The latter variant was used for the Personal launch, with the vehicle featuring an RD-0124 third stage engine, which provided additional thrust. The RD-0124 was declared operational on 3 May 2011.

A third configuration, the Soyuz-2-1v – which is also known as Soyuz-1 – uses an NK-33 engine to power the core stage and does away with the four boosters flown on all other Soyuz rockets.

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The Soyuz-2 also forms the basis for the Soyuz-ST rocket, which flies from Kourou in French Guiana. The Soyuz-ST is optimized to fly from Kourou, and also incorporates a flight termination system and a modified telemetry system.

1 OA NASA Space Flight 304x234The core stage of the Soyuz-2, the Blok-A, is powered by a single RD-108A engine. This is augmented for the first two minutes of flight by four boosters, each of which is powered by an RD-107A engine.

An optional Fregat Upper Stage – powered by an S5.92 engine – uses unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine as propellant and nitrogen tetroxide as an oxidizer.

The Fregat first flew in 2000, and has been used on Soyuz-U, Soyuz-FG, Soyuz-2 and Zenit rockets. It was not, however, used on the launches with Persona.

(Images via Roscosmos, Buran.SE,

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