No details of the payload that has been put into orbit have emerged – although it has been widely speculated that the satellite may be the first in a
new generation of military geodesy satellites.
If the payload of Friday′s launch is a geodesy satellite, it may be the first Napryazhenie spacecraft, a new series of satellite that forms part of
Russia′s Nivelir-ZU programme. Napryazhenie has a GRAU index, or military item number of 14F150. The satellites name means “voltage”.
Geodesy is a branch of science and mathematics concerned with measuring the physical properties of Earth. In a military context, understanding the properties
of Earth – and especially its gravitational field, allows missile guidance and targeting systems to be refined for improved accuracy.
According to Russianspaceweb.com, the launch may be the first of the 14F150 Napryazhenie geodetic satellites that are developed as part of a Nivelir-ZU program.
The spacecraft was registered as object 42798 by NORAD. It received international designation 2017-037A. The satellite was deployed on a near-circular polar orbit
with altitude of approximately 660 km.
On Jun 23, 2017 Russia launched a Defense Ministry satellite codenamed Cosmos-2519 into a 650 km polar orbit. It is believed that the satellite′s real
name is Napryazhenie No. 1, and is probably built by the Lavochkin company. It may be carrying a geodetic payload and a space surveillance (space debris monitoring)
The Cosmos-2519 satellite made small orbit adjustments on Jul 27 and Aug 3, 2017 to a 649 x 668 km orbit. On Aug 23, 2017 according to the Russian Ministry of Defense,
it released a ′small satellite-inspector′ (maliy sputnik-inspektor) whose mission is to observe other Russian satellites. Most likely the satellite′s
first task is to observe the Cosmos-2519 host satellite, described as a generic platform for carrying experiments.
The inspector is thought to be designated Cosmos-2521.
The Russian inspector satellite experiment launched in 2017 continues.
From Jun 27 to Jul 19, 2018 the host satellite Cosmos-2519 made a series of burns which changed its orbit from 644 x 659 km to 318 x 664 km.
Cosmos-2521 appears to have made a single burn on Jul 20, 2018 to go from 346 x 362 km to 292 x 348 km. Cosmos-2523 remains in the 553 x 665 km orbit into which
it was ejected last October.
Cosmos-2519/2521/2523 - the story in excessive detail:
The US State Dept. has referred to a Russian satellite ′deployed ... in October ′ displaying ′very abnormal behaviour′ and
′troubling′, although they failed to identify the satellite or say exactly what was abnormal and troubling. The comment appears to refer to the Cosmos-2519/2521/2523
mission and the Cosmos-2523 payload in particular. This system is certainly puzzling and even unusual, but ′abnormal′ seems a bit strong as the US has
flown its own classified satellites which have performed unexplained orbit changes, proximity operations and subsatellite deployments.
Here a review of the mission:
Cosmos-2519 was launched aboard a Soyuz-2-1v rocket from Plesetsk on Jun 23, 2017 and placed in a 654 x 669 km x 98.1 deg sun-synchronous orbit with 09:54 local time
descending node. The Volga upper stage was deorbited the following day. A Soyuz Blok-I stage was left in a 284 x 650 km transfer orbit.
On Jul 27 at 1200 UTC, Aug 1 at 1215 UTC and Aug 3 at about 0800 UTC Cosmos-2519 performed small (0.5 m/s each) orbit changes to lower its orbit to 649 x 669 km.
On Aug 23, 2017 at about 0640 UTC a subsatellite, Cosmos-2521, separated from Cosmos-2519 at a relative speed of about 0.5 m/s. The subsatellite was described by Russia
at that time as a ′satellite-inspector′. Cosmos-2521 and 2519 carried out a series of exercises involving orbital changes and mutual flybys:
Exercise 1: Distant flyby
Cosmos-2521 drifted away from its parent over the next few days to a maximum range of about 300 km and then made orbit adjustments to reverse the drift (on Aug 27 and
Sep 4, 2017). By Oct 11, it had reapproached Cosmos-2519 within about 10 km. Another manuever caused it to retreat to about 50 km.
Exercise 2: Close flyby and distant stationkeeping
Further rendezvous burns by Cosmos-2521 returned it to the 10 km point by Oct 15, 2017 with approach within 2 km of Cosmos-2519 by Oct 18. It remained within 15 km of
Cosmos-2519 until Oct 31, with both in a 650 x 667 km orbit.
Exercise 3: Deploy subsatellite
On Oct 30, 2017 at 0352 UTC a further subsatellite, Cosmos-2523, departed Cosmos-2521 with a relative velocity of 27 m/s into a lower-perigee 554 x 664 km orbit. As
of Aug 2018 Cosmos-2523 has made no orbit maneuvers since its initial deployment. The three satellites (2519, 2521 and 2523) were registered with the UN by Russia in
orbits of 651 x 683, 656 x 688, and 656 x 687 km respectively, making it hard to be sure which name refers to the lower-perigee object.
Following the deployment of Cosmos-2523, Cosmos-2519 and Cosmos-2521 began to drift apart.
Exercise 4: Close flyby by Cosmos 2519
On Dec 14, 2017 at 0900 UTC Cosmos-2519, at a range of 1000 km from Cosmos-2521, manuevered to begin an approach. At 1340 UTC on Dec 15 Cosmos-2519 flew past Cosmos-2521
at a range of less than 7 km and a relative speed of 35 km/hr. By Dec 19 the satellites were several thousand km apart again.
Exercise 5: Close flyby by Cosmos 2519
Without further orbital manuevers 2519 lapped 2521 again on Feb 3, 2018 at 0700, passing around 10 km away at about 35 km/hr again.
Exercise 6: Slow flyby
On Feb 14, 2018 at 0407 UTC it was Cosmos-2521′s turn to maneuver, with a 9 m/s burn lowering its orbit to 618 x 664 km to begin a rendezvous with Cosmos-2519.
The two satellites passed each other slowly at a range of about 30 km on Feb 20.
Exercise 7: Slow flyby
By Feb 27, 2018 range was 380 km; reapproach burns led to a slow flyby at a range of less than 1 km from around 0730 to 1230 UTC Mar 1.
Exercise 8: Slow flyby
Cosmos-2521 then retreated to 80 km range on Mar 6, and resumed approach to carry out another 1 km-class flyby on Mar 7 around 0700 UTC.
Exercise 9: Slow flyby
Again, Cosmos-2521 retreated to 550 km range on Mar 16, 2018 and resumed approach to carry out another
slow flyby on Mar 21 around 2345 UTC, then drifted further to 24 km range by Mar 26.
Exercise 10: Rendezvous
On Mar 26, 2018 Cosmos-2521 returned to Cosmos-2519 and began a new phase of stationkeeping within 1 km, remaining near the parent satellite until Apr 30.
Exercise 11: Cosmos-2521 move to low orbit
Following the rendezvous, on Apr 30, 2018 it lowered its orbit in two large burns from 664 x 660 km to 350 x 369 km.
During May and June the satellites remained in their now-different orbits without further activity.
Exercise 12: Cosmos-2519 move to elliptical orbit
Then,from Jun 27 to Jul 19, 2018 Cosmos-2519 made a series of smaller burns to change its orbit from 644 x 659 km to 312 x 606 km and then up to 317 x 664 km.
Exercise 13: Cosmos-2521 second orbit lowering
The day after the final Cosmos-2519 burn, Cosmos-2521 lowered its orbit even further, to 292 x 348 km.
The timing of this change is clearly not coincidental, but the two vehicles did not make any close approaches during this period.
There has been no further orbit change activity since Jul 20, 2018.
The total manuever capability demonstrated by the three satellites are: