Author Topic: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh  (Read 9523 times)

Offline B. Hendrickx

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KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« on: 06/13/2019 11:18 pm »
It looks like KB Arsenal in St.-Petersburg is working on one or more top-secret satellites called Ekipazh (a word usually used in the meaning “crew”, although it also refers to a horse-drawn carriage). The project may be related to the company’s work on nuclear-powered satellites, but the details are sketchy.

KB Arsenal is no newcomer to this field. In the Soviet days it built the nuclear-powered radar ocean reconnaissance satellites known as US-A (infamous for a number of in-orbit failures, one of which resulted in radioactive debris coming down in Canada in 1978). These carried the 3 kW BES-5/Buk thermoelectric reactors of the Krasnaya Zvezda (“Red Star”) organization. In 1987 the company also launched two experimental Plazma-A satellites (Cosmos-1818 and 1867)  carrying Krasnaya Zvezda’s 5 kW TEU-5/Topol/Topaz-1 thermionic reactors. The only active KB Arsenal satellites currently in orbit  are the Lotos (14F138/14F145) electronic intelligence satellites, which are to be joined by military radar observation satellites called Pion-NKS (14F139). Both of these are part of a project called Liana. They use the same bus and are powered by solar energy. 

Information available on Ekipazh

The name Ekipazh appears in only a handful of sources:

1) The 2015 and 2017 annual reports of a company called NPP KP Kvant, based in Rostov. The reports can be downloaded here:
http://www.e-disclosure.ru/portal/files.aspx?id=25658&type=2

Also see this profile of NPP KP Kvant:
https://trudvsem.ru/company/1026104370731

NPP KP Kvant (not to be confused with solar panel manufacturer NPP Kvant) manufactures optical sensors for satellite orientation systems. In 2015 the company signed a contract with Arsenal for the production of an Earth sensor called 108M and the same year Arsenal also proposed NPP KP Kvant to deliver a Sun sensor called 202M.  Both are intended to be installed on what is called the satellite’s “transport energy module” (TEM). This is a term usually used to refer to a spacecraft carring a nuclear reactor that performs a dual function: to provide power to an electric propulsion system needed to send the spacecraft to a higher orbit or beyond Earth orbit (which explains the word “transport”) as well as to provide power to the spacecraft’s on-board systems (which explains the word “energy”).

According to the 2015 report, test flights of Ekipazh were to be completed in 2021.

2) a presentation of PAO Saturn (a company in Krasnodar) given at an international conference in Moscow last February
https://docplayer.ru/124565554-Sostoyanie-kvalifikacii-litiy-ionnyh-batarey-pao-saturn.html
(see p. 35)

PAO Saturn is a producer of solar panels and storage batteries. Therefore its role in the project is somewhat puzzling, because one would not expect such systems to be aboard what appears to be a nuclear-powered satellite.

3) a PhD dissertation on satellite control systems written by Aleksandr Kulakov, a postgraduate student at a university called the Saint-Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SPIIRAN). Kulakov is attached to SPIIRAN’s  Laboratory of Information Technologies in System Analysis and Modeling (LITSAM) and at the same time also is an engineer working for a KB Arsenal department specializing in satellite control systems.

The complete PhD dissertation (defended in 2017) is here:
https://docplayer.ru/72198446-Model-i-algoritmy-rekonfiguracii-sistemy-upravleniya-dvizheniem-kosmicheskogo-apparata.html
A summary is here:
http://www.spiiras.nw.ru/dissovet/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/avtoreferatkulakov.pdf

Here are two reviews of the dissertation in which Ekipazh is mentioned:
http://www.spiiras.nw.ru/dissovet/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/zakljucheniekulakov_na-sajt.pdf
http://www.spiiras.nw.ru/dissovet/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/zakljuchenie-organizacii-vypolnenija1.pdf

Kulakov’s research was related to control systems of “observation satellites” (which may have to be broadly interpreted here as any satellite that needs to point on-board instruments to Earth). Ekipazh is one of several projects in which Kulakov’s research was applied. More specifically, he worked out algorithms making it possible to counter any problems with the satellite’s on-board control system, which can be “automatically reconfigured” in the event of anomalies. Some of the results of Kulakov’s research were also used in a research project to analyze the reliability of a “transport energy module”. This is not linked to Ekipazh in the dissertation, but it is linked to KB Arsenal in SPIIRAN’s annual report for 2016:

 http://www.spiiras.nw.ru/assets/files/ru/documents/annual-reports/AnnualReportRus-2016_v16.pdf
(see p. 112)

Incidentally, another KB Arsenal project in which Kulakov’s research was used is called Perigei (“Perigee”), described only as a “multifunctional small satellite” which is in the research phase. 

LITSAM and KB Arsenal seem to have close ties. The company is mentioned as one of the laboratory’s partners on LITSAM’s website, which has an English version here:
https://litsam.ru/index.php/en/homepage-en
One of LITSAM’s researchers, Aleksandr Kovalyov, was KB Arsenal’s director general in 2015-2016 and after that continued to serve as an advisor to KB Arsenal. In the Soviet days Kovalyov was an officer at Baikonur, where he was closely involved (among other things) in the launch of KB Arsenal’s nuclear-powered radar ocean reconnaissance satellites in the 1980s. He later went on to head the Mozhaiskiy Military Space Academy in St.-Petersburg before joining Arsenal in 2007. KB Arsenal and SPIIRAN are also partners in the development of the Northwest Aerospace Monitoring Center (SZTsAKM), under which several universities and companies based in St-Petersburg join forces to receive and process data from remote sensing satellites in the interests of the St-Petersburg region and also for educational purposes.


Ekipazh may have a military designator in the 14F series that was recently spotted by Stan Black, namely 14F350 (see Stan Black’s latest post in the thread “Future photoreconnaissance and other military satellites”). This is an “out-of-sequence” 14F designator. Recent military satellites have been in the 14F13-, 14F14-, 14F15- and 14F16- series  (except for NPO Mashinostroyeniya’s Neitron, which is 14F01). The odd index may be explained by the satellite’s unusual nature. It is seen in two sources:

http://www.spiiras.nw.ru/educational-activities/postgraduate-studies/graduate-students-portfolios/portfolio.html?year=2018&student=Семенов+Александр+Евгеньевич

This leads to an overview of research performed by another postgraduate student at SPIIRAN’s LITSAM laboratory (Aleksandr Semyonov). One thing he has been involved in recently (2018-2019) is a joint project with KB Arsenal literally described as “development of software for simulating, calculating and analyzing the reliability of product 14F350 and its parts”. Given the known link between LITSAM and Ekipazh, 14F350 likely is the satellite’s index.

http://www.niicom.ru/media/files/zakupka/plan_2019.pdf

This is a procurement plan for 2019 of the Scientific Research Institute of Control Instruments (NII KP) in St.-Petersburg, which builds electromechanical attitude control systems for satellites. It mentions tests of Russian-made electronic parts for a device known as MSSKM-016 which in turn is part of “product 14F350”’. The tests were to be performed between January 2019 and January 2020. MSSKM (“Magnetic System for Unloading Momentum”) is a set of magnetorquers to desaturate reaction wheels or control moment gyroscopes. NII KP delivers exactly the same MSSKM magnetorquers for the next-generation photoreconnaissance satellites of RKTs Progress called Razdan (14F156), where they will be used to desaturate the satellite’s SGK-250 control moment gyroscope (also built by NII KP).  This is known from several procurement documents on zakupki.gov.ru, including this one published just last month:

http://zakupki.gov.ru/223/purchase/public/purchase/info/common-info.html?regNumber=31907870682

Kulakov’s PhD mentions MSSKM magnetorquers needed to desaturate on-board flyhweels, a possible indication that Ekipazh carries reaction wheels rather than control moment gyroscopes.



So where does Ekipazh fit in Russia’s space-based nuclear power program? KB Arsenal is known to have a role in two space projects involving nuclear reactors.

The 1-megawatt TEM project

One possibility is that Ekipazh is related to an ambitious project to develop a 1 megawatt space-based nuclear reactor that was announced by President Dmitri Medvedev back in 2009 and officially started in 2010. This is a joint project of Roscosmos and the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation that envisages the development of a “transport energy module” using a 1-megawatt gas-cooled reactor with gas-turbine energy conversion to provide power to an array of ion thrusters needed to deliver payloads to high orbits or other destinations in the Solar System. The project itself is sometimes referred to as TEM, but it should be stressed that the term “transport energy module” is also used to refer to nuclear electric space tugs in general, so its use with relation to Ekipazh is not necessarily indicative of a link with the 1-megawatt project.
 
Despite its earlier experience with nuclear-powered satellites, KB Arsenal was not involved in the TEM project from the outset. The major players that were originally assigned to the project under Roscosmos were the Keldysh Center (among other things for the development of the ion engines) and RKK Energiya (for spacecraft integration). The nuclear reactor is being built by the Dollezhal Scientific Research and Design Institute of Energy Technologies (NIKIET)  (under Rosatom). The first clue of KB Arsenal’s involvement in the project came in several interviews in 2014 with KB Arsenal’s director general Andrei Romanov, who said the company had been assigned “the leading role” in the development of the transport energy module.

Court documentation related to the TEM project that was published online in 2017-2018  has indeed confirmed that KB Arsenal was given that role by an order of the Russian space agency on 29 September 2014 (presumably taking over the spacecraft integration role of RKK Energiya, which seems to have abandoned the project at an early stage). This documentation also revealed that KB Arsenal signed a contract (named “TEM-Arsenal”) with the Khrunichev Center on 1 July 2015  for work on an orbital demonstrator identified as 327AN30 to be launched by the Angara-5 rocket. According to the documentation, this was originally supposed to carry a 140 kW version of TEM, but in May 2016 it was decided to upgrade this to 500 kW. One of the court documents is here:

https://sudact.ru/arbitral/doc/5YMKMBile4bu/
(the one that mentions the 29 September 2014 order of Roscosmos is no longer online)

Procurement documents also show that Arsenal signed another contract under the project with the Keldysh Center on 18 November 2016 (based on a contract between Roscosmos and the Keldysh Center of 29 June 2016). See here:

http://zakupki.gov.ru/223/purchase/public/purchase/info/common-info.html?regNumber=31806522168

These contracts may have been signed to take into account budget cuts that affected the TEM project under Russia’s Federal Space Program for 2016-2025 (approved in March 2016). At that point TEM seems to have been downsized to a series of research projects to determine the feasibility of flying a demonstrator satellite no sooner than 2025.  KB Arsenal was assigned to one of those (“Yadro” or “Core”) in November 2017. This was aimed at defining possible missions for TEM by November 2018 and would have to result in determining technical specifications for actual flight vehicles (with a capacity ranging from 100 kW to 1 mW) to be developed under a follow-up project called Nuklon. See this documentation on zakupki.gov.ru

http://zakupki.gov.ru/epz/order/notice/ok44/view/documents.html?regNumber=0995000000217000084

The most obvious conclusion is that Ekipazh is somehow related to the TEM project. Work on Ekipazh seems to have started around the same time that KB Arsenal was assigned to TEM in September 2014. It is known from NPP KP Kvant’s 2015 annual report that Ekipazh was underway in 2015. In a newsletter of KB Arsenal published in early 2015, the head of the company’s space department said a contract had been signed the previous year for a new satellite project and that the preliminary design was already underway. He may well have been referring to Ekipazh.

http://docplayer.ru/27089308-Lotos-s-2-kosmicheskiy-apparat-zapushchen-uspeshno-pyatnica-30-yanvarya-2015-goda-1-4690-segodnya-v-nomere-glavnaya-tema.html
(see p. 2)

However, there are also good reasons to believe that Ekipazh and TEM are separate efforts. Contracts for subsystems of Ekipazh signed since 2015 indicate that this is a satellite for which metal is actually being cut, whereas even the orbital demonstrator of TEM so far exists only on paper. The initial goal of finishing test flights in 2021 (mentioned in the 2015 annual report of NPP KP Kvant) also points to Ekipazh being much simpler than anything being developed under the futuristic looking TEM project. Moreover, there clearly is a shroud of secrecy surrounding Ekipazh, which is suggestive of a military mission (also indicated by its likely military designator 14F350). True, the TEM project, widely covered in the Russian press in the first half of this decade, has also become increasingly cloaked in secrecy in recent years, but that may have more to do with its embarrassing development problems than anything else.


Plazma-2010

All this raises the possibility that Ekipazh is an outgrowth of a more modest space-based nuclear power project that KB Arsenal began working on many years before the 1 megawatt project was even approved.  Under this project, initiated in 2004, KB Arsenal would develop a bus called Plazma-2010 or UKP-YaEU (УКП-ЯЭУ) (Universal Space Platform – Nuclear Power Unit) carrying second-generation thermionic reactors of the Krasnaya Zvezda company, much improved versions of the TEU-5/Topol/Topaz-1 reactor that the company built in the 1980s. Krasnaya Zvezda worked out plans for several such reactors ranging in capacity from 35 to 400 kW. The lightest of these (YaEU-25M) (ЯЭУ-25М) would make it possible to build a satellite that remained within the launch capacity of a Soyuz-2 class rocket. The heavier ones would require a Proton or Angara-5 rocket. See for instance here:

https://www.jiht.ru/science/temp/0013_0021_(2)_Кайбышев_ID17061.pdf
(p. 18)

Plazma-2010 is described in some detail in this 2010 article, which focuses on its use for remote sensing missions:

https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/ispolzovanie-kosmicheskih-platform-povyshennoy-energovooruzhyonnosti-s-yadernoy-energeticheskoy-ustanovkoy-v-interesah-resheniya

One of the drawings in the article shows the platform in its launch configuration (after launch a boom is extended to place the nuclear reactor at a safe distance from the payload). It consists of a service module with the nuclear reactor (left), the payload (center) and a liquid-fuel rocket engine (right) (see attachment 1: this is a drawing from another article showing the spacecraft inside the payload fairing of a Soyuz-2-1b rocket). Although not shown in the drawings, the text also refers to an “electric engine unit” needed to place the satellite into its operational orbit and for subsequent maneuvering (so Plazma-2010 is a “transport energy module”). No explanation is given for the combination of electric and liquid-fuel rocket engines, but it may be needed to boost the satellite to an orbit high enough so that its reactor does not pose any danger to people on Earth. The liquid-fuel engine may also serve as a back-up for the electric propulsion system in case that experiences problems or to send the satellite to a safer “graveyard orbit” once its mission is finished.

In several interviews in 2014 KB Arsenal director general Andrei Romanov said the company was still working on the platform, stressing that it was unrelated to the 1 megawatt nuclear reactor project started in 2010. See for instance here:

https://dropdoc.ru/doc/157533/slava-----mashinostroitel._nyj-zavod--arsenal-
(see p. 4-5)
https://vpk-news.ru/sites/default/files/pdf/VPK_43_561.pdf
(see p. 9)

Romanov, who successfully defended a PhD dissertation on satellites with thermionic reactors in December 2013, seems to have strongly promoted the project after becoming KB Arsenal’s director general earlier that same year, but he was replaced by Kovalyov at the end of 2014.       

In 2014 KB Arsenal published drawings of three satellites with the YaEU-25M reactor on its website (see attachment 2). These were literally said to be intended for “Earth remote sensing, space studies and the relay of signals during research of deep space”. The text to the right of the center drawing (seemingly showing a radar-equipped satellite) says that the operational orbit is 1500 km, inclination 67° and mass 7600 kg. The bottom text says the satellites have an expected lifetime of at least seven years.

The drawing on top is also seen in the 2010 KB Arsenal article, where it is described as a remote sensing satellite carrying a combination of radar and optical payloads. However, the top and center drawings are also seen in an annual compilation of articles on Russia’s electronic warfare program published in 2014. This has an article by Romanov that discusses the possible use of the Plazma-2010 platform for electronic warfare and describes the payloads seen in these drawings as being intended for that purpose. Romanov also noted that KB Arsenal’s Liana satellites could provide intelligence information in support of the electronic warfare program. He also pointed out that a simpler solar-powered satellite based on the Liana design could be adapted for a “more limited” electronic warfare mission requiring less power.

The 2015 edition has another article by KB Arsenal and this shows a Plazma-2010 platform with a payload for electronic warfare both in its launch and in-orbit configuration (see attachment 3). This looks similar to the bottom drawing on the KB Arsenal website. This article said the satellites would have to be placed into highly elliptical or geostationary orbits and would need a 30 to 40 kW reactor. They would be launched by the Soyuz-2-1b and reach their final destination using the electric propulsion system. More advanced versions carrying a reactor with a capacity of up to 80 kW would have to be launched by the Angara-5. The authors talk about the use of the satellites for electronic warfare “in and from space”, meaning they would be used against targets both in space and on Earth. Such missions, the article said, would be in accordance with a policy for Russia’s electronic warfare program until 2020 (approved by the Russian government in January 2012). A summary of this policy indeed mentions space-based electronic warfare as one of the objectives to be accomplished:

http://federalbook.ru/files/OPK/Soderjanie/OPK-9/III/Doskalov.pdf
(see p. 374)

Evidently, KB Arsenal also published a similar article in the 2016 edition, which drew the attention of the Izvestiya newspaper in August of that year:

https://iz.ru/news/629623

Asked about these plans, Arsenal’s new director general Aleksandr Milkovskiy told Izvestiya that “if the military is interested in Arsenal’s proposal, the company is prepared to implement this project”. The newspaper also quoted a source in Russia’s “military-industrial complex” as saying that “a KB Arsenal satellite with a nuclear reactor” could be placed into orbit before 2020, something which Milkovskiy was not willing to confirm. Possibly, this was a reference to Ekipazh. The article also implicitly suggested that the 1-megawatt TEM project was a separate undertaking, saying the first experimental satellite under that project was not expected to fly until 2025.

Although not mentioned in the articles, a likely industrial partner for the electronic warfare payload would be Moscow-based TsNIRTI, which has had a monopoly in building space-based ELINT payloads since the early 1960s and is also actively engaged in ground-based electronic warfare projects. Full PDF versions of these article collections are no longer available online, only selections of articles that do not include the KB Arsenal articles:

https://reb.informost.ru

Electronic warfare is also a possible mission eyed for the 1-megawatt TEM project and was studied by KB Arsenal as part of the earlier mentioned “Yadro” research program in 2017-2018 along with remote sensing, directed energy transfer using lasers, communications and interorbital transport of payloads (the Solar System missions advertised in the early years of the TEM project are noticeably absent from the objectives). As revealed in the documentation on Yadro on zakupki.gov.ru,  KB Arsenal studied an electronic warfare payload with a maximum mass of 5 tons that required a 10m diameter antenna and a power source of between 100 and 1000 kW. It would have to be capable of interfering with “control, intelligence, communications and navigation systems”.



So does Ekipazh use the Plazma-2010 platform, perhaps even with a payload for electronic warfare? There are problems with this idea as well. Although Romanov indicated in 2014 that Plazma-2010 was essentially ready for manufacturing, there is no evidence that it ever went into production. Moreover, earlier this year KB Arsenal removed all information on the Plazma-2010 based satellites from its website (but there may have been other reasons for that than its cancelation). Krasnaya Zvezda also removed the information on its thermionic reactors, although the only second-generation thermionic reactor mentioned on its site was one called Topaz-100/40, conceived back in the 1990s for a long-abandoned communications satellite project called “Space Star”. The changes on the two websites did not go unnoticed in the Russian press:

https://news.rambler.ru/scitech/41846528-dochki-roskosmosa-i-rosatoma-udalili-informatsiyu-o-reaktorah-dlya-kosmosa/

The question also arises if Russia can afford to work on two separate space-based nuclear power projects (TEM and Plazma-2010). Perhaps the two projects were somehow integrated after KB Arsenal became involved in TEM in 2014 and Ekipazh uses elements of both programs. Also puzzling is the involvement in Ekipazh of PAO Saturn, a manufacturer of solar panels and batteries, components that would seem to be unnecessary on a nuclear-powered satellite.  Russia must also be aware of the international concern that would be sparked by the launch of top-secret nuclear-powered satellites, even if they are placed into much higher orbits than the Soviet-era radar ocean reconnaissance satellites.   So is the term “transport energy module” used in connection with Ekipazh to refer to a solar-powered electric propulsion system? Is it perhaps a testbed for some elements of the 1-megawatt TEM such as the ion engines? Is it the simpler solar-powered satellite for electronic warfare mentioned by Romanov in 2014? Or is it something completely different? So far there is too little information on the project to conclusively answer these questions and Ekipazh very much remains in the realm of speculation.

Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #1 on: 07/01/2019 08:05 pm »
Procurement documentation that appeared on zakupki.gov.ru last week proves that Ekipazh is a project run by the Ministry of Defense and also confirms speculation in the first post that it has the designator 14F350.

http://zakupki.gov.ru/223/purchase/public/purchase/info/common-info.html?regNumber=31908044746

The documentation contains a draft contract between the Scientific Research Institute of Control Instruments (NIIKP) in St.-Petersburg and RNII Elektronstandart for radiation testing of Russian-built electronic components to be used in MSSKM-016 systems aboard 14F350 satellites (the plural is used, suggesting that the project will see more than one launch) . The name of the contract is “Ekipazh-MSSKM-KP”, where “MSSKM” stands for “Magnetic System for Unloading Momentum” and “KP” presumably refers to “KP” in “NIIKP”. As explained in the first post, it was already known from a procurement plan of NIIKP for 2019 that the company was supposed to deliver this system for 14F350, but the draft contract now makes is possible to positively identify the satellites as Ekipazh. 

The contract between NIIKP and RNII Elektronstandard is based on another one signed between KB Arsenal and NIIKP on 11 May 2018 and called “Adaptation of MSSKM-016 for use in KA SN”. “KA SN” presumably stands for “special purpose satellite” (космический аппарат специального назначения). “Special purpose” is commonly used in Russian as a euphemism for “military”. More importantly, the draft contract also refers to the original contract for the project between the Ministry of Defense and KB Arsenal, which was signed on 13 August 2014. This can be considered the official start date of project Ekipazh. 

The documentation shows that the radiation tests were to be performed between 1 May and 30 October 2019 and that several other companies besides RNII Elektronstandart are allowed to take part in this work, more specifically, the Kurchatov Institute’s Nuclear Physics Institute, ENPO SPELS and NII KP (Scientific Research Institute of Space Instrument Building) (a Moscow-based company not to be confused with NIIKP in St.-Petersburg). 

Contract numbers given in the documentation make it possible to locate two other contracts for Ekipazh:

http://zakupki.gov.ru/223/purchase/public/purchase/info/common-info.html?regNumber=31807029051
http://zakupki.gov.ru/223/purchase/public/purchase/info/common-info.html?regNumber=31907707143

These are contracts for identical electronic components signed on 7 August 2018 and 22 January 2019 between NIIKP and AO Proton, a manufacturer of electronic components based in Oryol. These components are among the list of MSSKM-016 parts that are to go undergo radiation testing this year.

The MSSKM system is needed to desaturate either control moment gyroscopes or momentum wheels. Such electromagnetic attitude control systems are usually used aboard Earth remote sensing satellites, but that does not necessarily mean that Ekipazh is intended for that purpose. It may also be used for other missions that require accurate pointing of on-board instruments.

Although the new documentation doesn’t shed new light on the exact purpose of Ekipazh or the nature of its “transport energy module”, it does show that Ekipazh (managed by the Ministry of Defense) and the 1-megawatt TEM project (managed by Roscosmos and Rosatom) are separate projects. Still, some kind of link between the two projects cannot be excluded. As mentioned in the first post, KB Arsenal was assigned to the 1-megawatt TEM project by a Roscosmos order on 29 September 2014, which was just 1.5 months after it was awarded the contract for Ekipazh by the Ministry of Defense. This may not be a coincidence.

Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #2 on: 09/20/2019 08:42 pm »
During a question-and-answer session with students in St.-Petersburg last Wednesday, Roscosmos chief Dmitri Rogozin seems to have dodged a question about Ekipazh by talking about the unrelated Roscosmos/Rosatom 1-megawatt nuclear reactor instead. This is what he said according to RIA Novosti (my translation):

https://ria.ru/20190918/1558806385.html

Quote
“We are indeed working on a megawatt class space-based reactor. We still need to decide if we’re going directly to 1 megawatt or to half a megawatt [first].   We are moving in that direction and the work is proceeding according to schedule”, Rogozin said, answering a question about Ekipazh, a project of KB Arsenal to produce an interplanetary space tug with a nuclear installation.  “The safest orbit to place the reactor is at least 800 km. This also gives us the opportunity to develop a tug using an electric propulsion system. Its speed will not be very high, but it can work very long and efficiently. That is why we are developing this.”

As explained in the previous posts here, Ekipazh is a project ordered by the Ministry of Defense, which is not interested in “interplanetary space tugs”. Don't expect Rogozin to say anything about it in public.

Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #3 on: 10/07/2019 10:49 pm »
My latest findings on Ekipazh are in this article published today on The Space Review:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/3809/1

There is now conclusive evidence from publicly available procurement documentation that this is a military satellite of KB Arsenal carrying a thermionic nuclear reactor of the Krasnaya Zvezda organization. This means it most likely uses the Plazma-2010 platform or an outgrowth of it. As I have mentioned in this thread, Ekipazh may carry a payload intended for electronic warfare. So far there is no solid evidence linking Ekipazh to such a payload, but I did find information suggesting that a space-based electronic warfare program got underway around the same time that Ekipazh was approved by the Ministry of Defense in 2014. 

Offline gosnold

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #4 on: 10/09/2019 04:39 pm »
My latest findings on Ekipazh are in this article published today on The Space Review:

Really impressive article! Reads like a detective novel.

I don't understand two things however:
- The power to mass ratio of the thermionic reactor does not seem that great compared to solar panels. Ultraflex solar panels are quoted at 150kW/t (150W/kg) whereas YEU-50 only reaches 50/4.2=12.0 kW/t . The megawatt-class TEM has a much better ratio.

- Jamming from a satellite in a high orbit is really complicated: the square-losses are 3 600 worse from GEO than with an airborne jammer 600km away. Plus the satellite will likely not be where the enemy radars are looking at, so they will be able to reject it more easily. I don't get the military value of this.

Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #5 on: 10/09/2019 09:42 pm »
My latest findings on Ekipazh are in this article published today on The Space Review:

Really impressive article! Reads like a detective novel.

I don't understand two things however:
- The power to mass ratio of the thermionic reactor does not seem that great compared to solar panels. Ultraflex solar panels are quoted at 150kW/t (150W/kg) whereas YEU-50 only reaches 50/4.2=12.0 kW/t . The megawatt-class TEM has a much better ratio.

- Jamming from a satellite in a high orbit is really complicated: the square-losses are 3 600 worse from GEO than with an airborne jammer 600km away. Plus the satellite will likely not be where the enemy radars are looking at, so they will be able to reject it more easily. I don't get the military value of this.

Good questions, but all I can say is that Ekipazh is clearly a military satellite with a thermionic reactor, so the Russians have obviously found some mission for it that they consider worth doing and which warrants the use of a nuclear reactor. Can we say for sure that the mission will be electronic warfare? No. We do know that KB Arsenal officials have written articles about the possibility of installing EW payloads aboard satellites carrying thermionic reactors and that the company also studied EW payloads for the 1-megawatt reactor. We also know that space-based electronic warfare was included as an objective in a longterm policy for Russia's electronic warfare program approved in 2012 and that one or more companies belonging to the KRET holding started working on space-based EW payloads in the 2013/2014 timeframe. The Ekipazh project was started in August 2014, but that may be just a coincidence.

You point out the difficulties of jamming ground-based targets from a high orbit, but bear in mind that the targets could just as well be other satellites.

Offline Star One

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KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #6 on: 10/10/2019 02:36 pm »
Excellent article. Though the idea kind of reads like something you would find in an airport thriller.

It seems like it’s part of general fashion for nuclear powered military projects in Russia at the moment.
« Last Edit: 10/10/2019 02:38 pm by Star One »

Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #7 on: 09/14/2020 07:56 pm »
There is a thread devoted to the 1 megawatt TEM here:
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=37957.0
Perhaps it's better to continue this discussion there.
Again, Ekipazh is a different project.

[zubenelgenubi: I split/merged these posts from here to there.]
« Last Edit: 09/14/2020 10:40 pm by zubenelgenubi »

Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #8 on: 11/10/2021 11:02 pm »
In the article that I wrote on Ekipazh for “The Space Review” about two years ago, I provided evidence suggesting that it will be used for space-based electronic warfare:

1) in 2014-2016 KB Arsenal published a handful of articles on the possible use of nuclear-powered satellites for electronic warfare
2) in late 2014 KB Arsenal director Andrei Romanov said his company was focusing on space-based “armament systems” that would meet the demands of “future warfare”
3) in 2015 officials of the KRET holding revealed that Russia had begun working on an electronic warfare satellite (without linking it to a specific manufacturer)

A court document published last May now makes it possible to conclude with a high degree of certainty that this will indeed be its mission:
https://kad.arbitr.ru/Card/b902fedc-9d96-4acd-a1f5-0ba6410ffba7

The document describes a court case between a company called Radiotechnical and Information Systems for Aerospace Defense (RTIS VKO) and the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics (MTUSI). RTIS VKO signed a contract with KB Arsenal for Ekipazh on September 5, 2018  (under the name Ekipazh-RTIS) and in turn subcontracted work on the project to MTUSI on September 19, 2018 (under the name Ekipazh-RTIS/REB). REB is the Russian abbreviation for electronic warfare (“radioelektronnaya bor’ba”, literally “radioelectronic warfare”). 

The exact nature of the work assigned to RTIS VKO is not revealed. It is part of “phase 2” of the project, which had not yet been concluded at the time of writing. MTUSI finished its part of the work by late October 2018, indicating its role was relatively minor.  It can also be learned from the document that the government contract that the Ministry of Defense awarded to KB Arsenal for Ekipazh on August 13, 2014 was worth roughly 5.3 billion rubles (about $75 million according to today’s exchange rate, but around $147 million according to the exchange rate at the time).

RTIS VKO, based in Tver (about 160 km northwest of Moscow), was founded in December 2011 to conduct research and development in the field of aerospace defense. Its website is here:
https://rtisvko.ru

Among the partners mentioned on the website are KB Arsenal, OKB Planeta (another company known to have a role in Ekipazh) as well as the Ministry of Defense’s Scientific Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces (TsNII VVKO) (now renamed TsNII VKS). Also located in Tver, this was established in March 2014 on the basis of several earlier military research institutes (including 2 TsNII) and seems to have close ties with RTIS VKO.

Most articles published by RTIS VKO have to do with its work on over-the-horizon radars. The only publications that seem to be related to electronic warfare deal with so-called multibeam self-focusing adaptive antenna arrays. Some of them specifically mention their use on “satellites for communications with mobile objects”, but indications are that this is a cover story for their real purpose.

A researcher involved in all these publications is Andrei G. Zaitsev, a veteran of the electronic warfare division of the former 2 TsNII institute. Articles and patents (co-)authored by Zaitsev show that the research on these antenna arrays has been done jointly with TsNII VVKO as well as TsNIRTI in Moscow. TsNIRTI has had a monopoly since the 1960s in developing payloads for KB Arsenal’s signals intelligence satellites (including the current Lotos satellites), but has also produced ground-based and airborne electronic warfare systems. Considering its long-standing relations with KB Arsenal and its background in electronic warfare systems, TsNIRTI would be a logical partner for KB Arsenal in Ekipazh. One problem with that is that TsNIRTI belongs to Almaz-Antei and not KRET, the holding that is apparently in charge of the EW payload. It should also be noted that all these publications appeared in 2015-2017 and predate the signing of the contract between KB Arsenal and RTIS VKO.

The MTUSI university has a department called “Telecommunications Safety” (formerly “Radio Communications Safety”) that does research on electronic warfare systems.
https://mtuci.ru/about_the_university/structure/588/

Two of the department’s industrial partners are Avtomatika Concern (belonging to KRET) and VNII Etalon, both of which have a role in electronic warfare projects.

MTUSI also is a subcontractor to VNII Gradient in KRET’s Divnomorye project, a mobile ground-based electronic warfare system to jam airborne and space-based radar systems. See this contract:
https://zakupki.gov.ru/223/contract/public/contract/view/general-information.html?id=1375528


Another court document related to Ekipazh appeared online late last month:
https://kad.arbitr.ru/Card/2a1758ed-4b7c-4777-a859-97e79925f706

This describes a court case between Krasnaya Zvezda (which provides the thermionic nuclear reactor for Ekipazh) and RFYaTs-VNIIEF. The only substantial information given in the document is that the two sides signed a contract for the project on June 3, 2019. As can be determined from information published on zakupki.gov.ru, the contract was for the delivery of an “automatic control system” for “Product 295”, which seems to be the code-name for the nuclear reactor of Ekipazh (see the article on “The Space Review”).

 https://zakupki.gov.ru/223/contract/public/contract/view/general-information.html?id=7507039






Offline B. Hendrickx

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Re: KB Arsenal's project Ekipazh
« Reply #9 on: 07/14/2022 11:39 pm »
Two more court documents related to Ekipazh have appeared online recently.

https://kad.arbitr.ru/Card/76b19896-6b38-4fa4-ad58-d1ae2b34a830

This one describes a court case between the Progress Rocket and Space Center (RKTs Progress) and the Khrunichev Center, more particularly its subsidiary KB Khimmash (the former Isayev design bureau, specializing in satellite and spacecraft propulsion systems). Khrunichev awarded a contract to Progress for Ekipazh on June 18, 2018, which in turn was based on a contract between KB Arsenal (the prime contractor for Ekipazh) and Khrunichev. In procurement documentation the date for the latter contract is given as April 1, 2019, but it must have pre-dated the Khrunichev/Progress contract, so this is almost certainly a typo (it may have been April 1, 2018).

Under the June 18, 2018 contract, RKTs Progress was to deliver eight propellant tanks to KB Khrunichev by March 2020. This was a much smaller amount than had been asked for in letters sent by Khrunichev to Progress prior to the signing of the contract. In a letter dated April 6, 2018, Progress had been asked to deliver 16 mock-up tanks and 57 ‘real’ tanks by October 2019. In a letter dated June 5, 2018, Khrunichev reduced that amount to 8 mock-up tanks and 41 real tanks to be delivered by March 2019. Finally, in a letter on September 11, 2018, Progress was again given new instructions on the amount of tanks needed and their delivery date. This was presumably when the number was reduced to 8 tanks for delivery by March 2020. Whether those were mock-up or real tanks is not clear from the document.

Strangely enough, when Progress was about to ship the tanks in March 2020, Khrunichev no longer needed them. In May 2019 Khrunichev had received a letter from KB Arsenal saying it should not carry out “section 2.4” of their joint contract, the one that seems to have covered the delivery of the tanks. The reason for that is only described in the document as “the impossibility to achieve [the necessary] results”. 

If I understand the document correctly (it is extremely confusing), Khrunichev interpreted this as meaning that the delivery of the tanks would merely be suspended, not canceled, which is why Progress went ahead with their production after all. It wasn’t until July 2021 that KB Arsenal unambiguously informed Khrunichev that “section 2.4” had been removed from the contract (apparently meaning the tanks would not be needed at all). Progress subsequently filed a lawsuit against Khrunichev for having refused to take delivery of the tanks and not having paid for them. Last May the court ordered Khrunichev to reimburse Progress for the tanks and take delivery of them anyway (even though they no longer seem to be needed…). For some reason, the document singles out a specific item that Progress needed to be reimbursed for, namely a “soap emulsion based on shaving soap” needed for leak checks of the tanks.

The propellant tanks are identified as 14F148.7101-0. 14F148 is the index for the Bars-M military topographic mapping satellites, which would indicate that the idea was for Ekipazh to use the same propellant tanks as Bars-M. Bars-M’s propulsion system (known as SVIT) has two fuel and two oxidizer tanks which feed N2O4/UDMH to a four-chamber main engine (MVSK-83 of NIIMash) and a set of attitude control thrusters of Khrunichev/KB Khimmash. It is perfectly possible, however, that Ekipazh is supposed to use other engines. Ekipazh is presumably based on a nuclear-powered platform called Plazma-2010 that KB Arsenal announced early last decade and is seen in the attached drawing in its stowed launch configuration (with the nuclear reactor on the left, the payload module in the middle and the propulsion module on the right).

The document would suggest that KB Arsenal decided in 2019 not to use the Bars-M tanks, but much of it remains open to interpretation. The least it does is to create the impression that the project is marred by poor communication between some of its leading participants.   

https://kad.arbitr.ru/Card/ca1d85f0-4ce5-47db-85c4-8cf6d0d5282e

This document describes a legal dispute between KB Arsenal and Krasnaya Zvezda, the company that builds the thermionic nuclear reactor for Ekipazh (identified in procurement documentation as “Product 295”). It deals almost exclusively with financial issues related to that contract.   The only substantial information that can be gleaned from the document is that the two companies signed a contract on April 4, 2019 and that it was part of phase 2 of the government contract awarded by the Ministry of Defense to KB Arsenal for Ekipazh on August 14, 2014. This would indicate that work on the reactor began in earnest only about five years after the start of the project, a possible sign that we should not expect to see Ekipazh fly any time in the near future. 



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