Oct 23, 2023Part 4 of a series on communications satellites. The Soviet Union had a big advantage in launch vehicle capability, but, while the US had adapted the Delta to launch small satellites into Geostationary orbits the R7 which had carried spacecraft to the Moon and Venus was not capable of doing the equivalent without significant redesign. Instead, the Soviet Union's scientists came up with their own solution which had some advantages for covering the massive territory of the USSR.The Molniya satellites would be in a highly eccentric orbit that spent about 6 hours per day over the USSR, this orbit was easier to reach and this let them launch spacecraft 40 times the mass of the American satellites. but as communications platforms they were no more capable.Most of this information comes from Boris Chertok's Memoir - Rockets and People, specifically volume 3 "Hot Days Of The Cold War" - NASA has translated this and I highly recommend it. SOURCE
The Hughes study, “Satellite Communications, An Initial System for Global Communication Via Satellite Relaying,” is documented in a brochure written by the Communications Systems Laboratory personnel and Dr. Lutz. One key contributor was Donald Miller, who later in the 1960’s worked with Dr. Rosen’s group. The brochure is undated but apparently completed in early 1958. It described a system of satellite communications that could have been provided with 1958 technology. This pre-Syncom study was an attempt to indicate to the U. S. government and military that Hughes had the interest, resources, and technical breadth to conduct the analysis, design, and construction of communication satellites.The orbit selected for this study maintains the satellite apogee (maximum altitude) of an elliptical orbit continuously over the northern hemisphere to maximize time available for communications for the most populous regions. This type of orbit was later selected for the first USSR domestic communications satellite, Molniya, launched in 1965, and thus became known as a Molniya orbit. By selecting an orbital inclination at 63.4 degrees the apogee would remain fixed over the northern hemisphere and with a period of 12-hours the Molniya satellite could provide 8 hours of communications service.The Hughes 1958 study adopted a Molniya-type orbit with a period of 4.8 hours, an apogee of 9500 miles, and a perigee of 500 miles as limited by the launch vehicle capability of that time. With a modest initial investment, it was projected that the satellite could be placed in service within one year.