Libmonster ID: CN-432
Author(s) of the publication: Yu. MARKOV

by Yuri MARKOV, test engineer, Lavochkin Aerospace R&D Association (Khimki, Moscow Region)

Our Number 2 for 1995 carried a commentary by the author of the present article, Yuri Markov, in which he discussed a new Russian space project, not mentioned before in our press, for developing a new orbital (also called inter- orbital) space booster of the 21st century which would increase in a significant way the energy potential of all of the already existing and new and coming carrier rockets or space freighters.

In the present article Yuri Markov describes the ambitious dream becoming a reality.


Over the years scientists and engineers dreamed up all sorts of ways and means of lifting cargoes to near-earth space. But say what you may, a powerful carrier rocket, or space freighter, will remain the basic tool for dealing with this problem. And Russia and other advanced countries already do have some very good rockets of this kind. But at the turn of the century we are all facing a serious problem of their updating prompted by some very obvious needs and requirements. To begin with, the mass of many space carriers has to be increased because of the growing requirements for their reliability, diversity of functions and longer service life. To give just one example, communication satellites start bringing returns on investments only after several years of troublefree continuous operation. And this can only be ensured by increasing the payload.

It is also necessary to considerably improve the accuracy of placing spacecraft into the prescribed orbits and reduce the ecological damage caused by the first stages of these rockets, which necessitates reducing the size of areas reserved for this purpose. It is also necessary to increase the size of holds for the payloads, that is the "nose" of a space freighter should be made bigger. And it is important to stress that the energy, or power margin, for placing such carriers into different orbits largely depends on what we call the tactico-technical parameters of the upper stages of a carrier - the so-called booster section (or an inter-orbital tug).

In the early 1990s an idea of building such a tug on the basis of an autonomous engine, a unit which had proved its worth during the Mars mission, was substantiated by the (former) chief designer of the R&D Department of the Lavochkin Center, Vladimir Asyushkin, Cand. Sc. (Tech.), who now holds the post of Chief Designer of the Launchers Section. The idea won the support of the Russian Space Agency and also of the military. A decision of the Government of the Russian Federation published on September 15, 1992, authorized the development of what was called the FRIGATE universal booster rocket. Within a relatively short time our Center's specialists prepared a preliminary draft of what they called an inter-orbital booster, or tug. But the pro-

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ject had to be shelved for lack of finances during that period.

But, as a Russian saying goes - there would be no luck if not for the bad luck. On that particular occasion the famous European ARIAN space carrier failed on its mission with a bunch of CLUSTER research satellites designed for studies of the impact of the Earth's magnetosphere and solar wind on the climate of this planet. And then the European Space Agency turned its gaze to the celebrated R-7 - the Soyuz carrier rocket with the promising FRIGATE*. The deal was mediated by the Russo-French STARSEM Firm ("start of the seven") which was on the look-out for orders for the P-7A rockets produced by the PROGRESS State R&D Aerospace Center (in Samara).

In this way work was started on the production of four space boosters (the first test launch - with a dummy payload, the second - "qualifying" launch with two CLUSTER-2 dummies, and the third and fourth-each With two CLUSTER-2 satellites). But the work ran into snags caused by a number of reasons - above all losses of some precious "brains" during the decade of reforms in this country.

But picking up all our bits and pieces, we did manage to abide by the terms of the contract. On December 27, 1999, at 23.00 local time the giant RUSLAN cargo aircraft touched down at the Baikonur Space Center with a payload which included the FRIGATE, a payload imitator, the nose cone, dummy freight, piles of boxes with test and measurement gear and documents and other freight. On the following day the booster was placed on the testing stand. Having said that, let us now take a closer look at what this was really all about.

The backbone of the unit is a set of tanks of the propeller motor consisting of six inter-welded metal spheres. Four of these are used as fuel tanks: two for the fuel and the other two - for the oxidizer. The rest are sealed instrument containers (one houses the guidance system and the other the telemetric system and the system of radiocontrol of the orbit).

The booster is equipped with the C5.92 sustainer engine designed at the Engineering Department of the Isayev Bureau of Chemical Engineering. The guidance system, developed at the Pilyugin R&D Center of Automation and Instrument-Building within the framework of the "Marine Start" Program, is fully autonomous, which makes it possible to use the FRIGATE with practically any carriers. We included into our version a radio transmitter for the telemetric system intended for the International Space Station.

* The name was chosen in a special contest conducted by the head of the Project, V. Asyushkin, among the staff of the Lavochkin R&D Center. The winner was the author of this article who was inspired by the romantic image of the strong-winged seabird of the same name.

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When the rocket, which is several tens of meters high, towers on the launchpad, its total height with the FRIGATE attached is only 1.5 meters greater. But while P-7A can be placed into a 900-km solar-synchronous orbit with a satellite of 1.2 tons, a modernized P-7A can do the same with the FRIGATE of 3.2 tons.

The Lavochkin Center wants to use the FRIGATE as the basis for a whole family of boosters which will increase considerably the energy potential of the existing carriers like the PROTON, ZENIT and the future ANGAR and also of foreignmade ones like DELTA, ATLAS, ARIAN-5 and others. For example, if the PROTON can place into a geostationary orbit a communications satellite of 2.5 tons, the modernized carrier with a modified FRIGATE will do this with a payload of 3.5 tons. On with the FRIGATE!


We landed at the Krainiy Airport in Baikonur from Moscow late in the evening on December 23, 1999, and our team of 24 was accommodated for one night at the Tsentralnaya Hotel.

At daybreak we were off on the traditional routine of clearing the passes for entry into Zone 32 which used to accommodate several regular army units in a not distant past. And now it looked like a site after a nuclear blast - just a couple of small houses along the perimeter - Guest House 160 and "Hotel de Lux". On Sunday in the morning we saw some of the guys, who got there before us, storming a small truck because all wanted to go to the local market shopping for some local foods. Finally, a minibus for 8 left with a payload of 15 each carrying a huge shopping bag into the bargain. They came back only after dark, each with 10 to 12 loaves of bread - subsistence ratios for a whole week until the next lucky chance.

A traditional "kick-off" briefing was conducted by Deputy Chief Designer, Valery Baikin - a former naval officer and a man of iron will and top competence.

Preparations of the FRIGATE began without delay at the technical testing stand of the cosmodrome and revealed a number of problems. And the most trying thing happened on Christmas night when what we call the crucial "ground-to-probe" connection, or switch, failed to materialize. According to the standard procedure, before a rocket launch its electricity supply is switched from that the ground to its on-board sources. If everything goes according to schedule, the electrical "umbilical cord" can be disengaged and the probe is ready for launch. Faced with the unexpected break in the routine, the chief representative from the Pilyugin Center, V. Malinin, with his technical team who were joined by our own specialists and also

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A. Sokolov - Baikin's deputy in charge of the tests, rather quickly hit on the right "remedy". Baikin reported that if Moscow insists on the launch on January 28, then we "burn the bridges" now and begin fuelling the FRIGATE. In the meantime the Center completes the technical calculations, we take up the position on the launch pad one day ahead of schedule and complete the final pre-launch tests there.

We did realize how risky it was to switch to a new launch schedule having the already fuelled rocket before you. In Moscow, meanwhile, the State Commission remained in session and every half hour Baikin picked up the phone and asked for their final say. But the answer was really slow in coming.

Late that evening Baikin did get in touch with S. Kulikov - the General Designer and the General Director of the Lavochkin Center. A couple of minutes later he put down the receiver and turned to us. As he was putting us into the picture, I saw the pale face of S.Kulakov - Baikin's deputy in charge of mechanical support. He and his team had twice as much work as usual. Moscow suggested beginning with a "dry" (without the fuel) placement of the rocket on the launchpad, checking it out there and then returning the carrier with the booster to the original position, "taking them apart", fuelling the FRIGATE and then reassembling the spaceship. And all of these things had to be done "on the double".

The order provoked a brief but heated argument. The management and the guys in charge of the electricity, who kind of felt guilty, said: "The Moscow top brass turned yellow. We could have made things go right there and then." Others in our team objected that the people in Moscow were wise in not taking the risk.

But, say what you may, we managed to cope with the "tall order" right on time.

With the zero hour approaching, the top brass began to take up their seats in the stalls, so to speak. V. Asyushkin and his team and his nearest aids - A. Smirnov and S. Ishin, arrive in Baikonur on February 1, 2000.

The formal blessing, or consecration of the FRIGATE took place three days later and the ritual was celebrated by a specially invited Orthodox priest. He walked around the booster, reading prayers and sprinkling the rocket and ourselves with holy water. Coming from an atheistic background, I felt kind of out of water and immediately remembered the Russian saying: "Pin up your hopes on the Almighty, but keep your nose to the grindstone."


On February 9, 2000, the atmosphere on the cosmodrome was tensely businesslike with what I would call a romantic flavour. The blue Baikonur flag was flying at the pad with a white globe in the center and the first Sputnik in orbit around it. On the masts next to the main one

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there were the national colors of Russia, France and Kazakhstan.

With the launch scheduled for 4.20 a.m. local time, all the final preparations were carried out "under the cover of darkness". The launching ramp, embracing the rocket, was brightly and attractively illuminated. The launch team occupied an underground shelter intertied by telephone lines with the Mission Control.

The Control - or "Pervy" (Number One) in the Russian jargon - is Ye. Cherny as usual, and he is also the head of the joint launch team and first Deputy Director of the Baikonur Federal Space Center. From the corner of my eye I see him step up to the optical periscope. His air is calm and confident concentration. This was his 492nd launch and in about half of them he acted as "Pervy".

Standing next to the Control is A. Kuznetsov, chairman of the Flight Tests Commission and further down the line there are several ladies operators.

His eye glued to the periscope, the Control utters some brief orders and receives just as brief reports. The final one was from A. Zolotov - the man in charge of the FRIGATE tests.

Some 22 seconds later the bunker shakes as the rocket leaps off the mother earth - the takeoff was 32 milliseconds different from the prescribed timing.

The French officials in the bunker lose no time shaking hands with Ye. Cherny and his team on the successful launch, but the Control seems to be in a hurry and climbs the stairs to the exit.

...The 40D facility is a low pavilion wherein they prepared the Indian satellites* for launch. Sitting at a long table in a room on the third floor is the General Designer and General Director of the Lavochkin Center, S. Kulikov. He is flanked by his deputies - V. Baikin and A. Ushakov, the top brass of the Progress Center - the "owners" of the rocket, the "technical clearance" team led by V. Tikhonov and some of the leading technical experts. S. Kulikov receives reports from the ground-measuring stations and data processing centers. Soon it becomes clear that the FRIGATE is "behaving" just the way it was expected by its designers, builders and test experts.

"Payload separation - go!" - comes in the cherished report and the audience bursts with applause. I keep my eyes on V. Asyushkin who had been stubbornly pursuing his goal for the past decade. Knowing him since

See: Yu. Markov, "Joy with a Taste of Gall", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1998. - Ed.

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quite some time, one could have anticipated Ms response with a fair measure of confidence. If the mission is a success, he would act like he never had any doubts about it. And in case of a failure... No, this was simply ruled out!

He stepped away to the side, picked up his mobile phone and called his wife in a low voice: "Darling, we did it!"

Shortly after we all moved to the Baikonur Data Center which received a flow of information about the flight, landing and the search for the dummy payload. After the brilliant maneuver performed by the FRIGATE there began what we called the optional part of the program: the dummy payload, or "imitator" to use the technical jargon, was subdivided into a "demonstrator" and the rescue system. The former was to bring back to Earth the German research instruments, and the second-the FRIGATE itself which in this case performed the role of just a payload.

The weather was bad in the landing area, the radiobeacon was out of order and the search for the craft took longer than expected. On the next day the experts from Baikonur flew to Moscow still being in the dark about the situation in the landing area. When we came to the office on Monday we saw the billboard at the entrance bristling with messages of congratulations - from the Chairman of the State Commission, Jean-Ives Le Galle - Director General of STARSEM, the Khimki Mayor, Korablin, and lots of others. People were saying to one another with smiling faces: "Can you imagine! We did it! We did it at the first go!" On the other hand, bearing in mind the vast store of knowledge and experience accumulated by our space scientists and engineers over the years and their wealth of R&D achievements, it was really a safe bet that our first "baby" will do the job with flying colors.

But what about the dummy payload? I addressed this question to the Director General of our firm, S. Kulakov, who explained to me the whole situation in the following way: Our central objective was testing the FRIGATE. First we would load it not with a real spacecraft, but just with chunks of metal. But a launch costs quite a lot of money, and we decided to use a machine produced by the Lavochkin Center for checks of Mars launchers. The atmosphere of the Red Planet is much more rarified than here on Earth and that means that in order to match the different aerodynamics we had to invent some special devices. Experts of the Lavochkin Center opted for what they call inflatable aerodynamic breaks. This system is really unprecedented.

... Now when I am busy with this article, the FRIGATE-2 with a

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French mock-up satellite CLUSTER-2, the so-called DUMSAT, is being prepared for the launch.


I finished my previous paragraph three days before the start of the SOYUZ-FRIGATE mission with the French DUMSAT mock-up. And this second test launch of the FRIGATE was also a success which paved the way for the launches of the CLUSTER-2 probes of the European Space Agency. And although this second flight, just like the first, did not go without glitches, the SOYUZ and the booster demonstrated flawless performance.

FRIGATE-3 arrived at Baikonur at 3 p.m. local time on June 6 on board the giant RUSLAN cargo plane. A team of technical experts - we call them "storm-troopers" because they are the first to "invade" the local hotels - had arrived a week before. As for us, we were away from the cosmodrome for two months only.

...The third FRIGATE, or rather its test engineers, found themselves in a fix. The space carrier arrived on June 6 and only three days later they had to hand in to their French counterparts their adapter, or coupling, connecting the FRIGATE with the CLUSTERS. In other words they had to fit out in a jiffy both mechanical and electrical connections between the FRIGATE and the adapter. And it never rains, but it pours, as the saying goes, and some flaws were discovered by the Ground Control. And by the target date - June 17 - we were to complete the electrical and pneumo-vacuum tests and deliver the booster to the fuelling stand. But the test crew did their job with flying colors and delivered the booster to Platform 112 for the coupling with the CLUSTER-2 pair three days earlier. This gave us some extra time which turned out to be very handy very soon...

July 14 was a French national holiday and the launch of the French CLUSTER-2 from Baikonur was scheduled for the next day.

One could recall at this point that it was General Charles de Gaulle who stood at the start of the French-Soviet cooperation in space research. During his second term of office, he embarked on a rapprochement with the Soviet Union and decided to come to Moscow on an official visit. The Soviet leaders of that time welcomed this as an event of crucial importance and the French President was invited to visit the Baikonur Space Center.

The first ever foreign visitor invited to the holy of holies of the Soviet Union was shown the launches of different kinds of rockets and he was really impressed. He asked:

- Can these mighty weapons be really used against Paris-this most beautiful of world capitals?

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And Leonid Brezhnev asked in his turn:

- And why should France be in the NATO?

And one should really give the great French leader his due, because soon after his return to Paris he took France out of NATO.

When asked by the correspondent what was his strongest impression from the visit to the Russian cosmodrome, the General gave a truly French answer: "The ladies. I've never seen so many charming faces before!"

...After De Gaulle's visit to Baikonur Soviet-French cooperation in space research gained momentum, and shortly after there came the "staggering" news of our Chief Designer, G. Babakin, going on a visit to France. We, staff of the supersecret aerospace branch, simply could not believe our ears.

And then there were more visits by our top brass and gradually people in high places started discussing bilateral cooperation. After some time there appeared on LUNOKHOD-1 a French laser reflector: it was "targeted" by a laser beam from the ground and the reflected signal was used for precision measurements of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Later on the French research instrument STEREO was installed on Mars-71 for solar studies.

And France is backing up Russian projects right to this day. For example, when we could no longer afford the flight control of several missions, the French side took upon itself the lion's share of the expenses. The CLUSTER-2 experiment also depends on finances, and the French side, or better say the European Space Agency (including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain) foots the bill for not only placing their satellites into orbit, but also for the development of our FRIGATE inter-orbital tug...

Unfortunately, as we know, the four CLUSTER satellites, which cost ESA experts 10 years of hard work, perished in the ARIAN-5 failure in 1996. But the scientists and engineers did not give up and suggested using the available "spares" for making one more satellite to be named PHOENIX. And the ESA members, being aware of the great scientific importance of the proposed experiment, decided to add to the PHOENIX three more satellites. This gave birth to the CLUSTER-2 Project for studies of solar- terrestrial bonds.

It should be pointed out that Russian specialists who designed and built satellites in the PROGNOZ series (Lavochkin Center) had worked out even before a study project of the same kind with the use of three space probes at one and the same time. Foreign experts nicknamed it the "Russian Troika" and it was implemented in part with the launchings of our two INTERBOL satellites. The last of these kept functioning as long as October, 2000.

The question before the ESA was: what to launch the new CLUSTERS with? The ARIAN freighter is too expensive not to mention the other "risks" involved. And the European experts turned their eyes to the SOYUZ freighter with the new inter-orbital tug FRIGATE. The "middleman" was the French-Russian STARSEM Consortium, and on July 24, 1998 the parties concerned signed the "SOYUZ-FRIGATE-CLUSTER-2" contract at the ESA Headquarters in Paris.

My own interpretation (which I like most) of the word "cluster" in this situation is "bunch" and by that I mean that the four satellites, working simultaneously, should perform three-dimensional studies of processes taking place in near-earth space and take advantage of what we call a stereoeffect. Each satellite, measuring 1.3 meters in height and 2.9 meters in diameter, looks like a big concert drum with all sorts of freaks attached. It is fitted out with the necessary service systems, the "main" motor and a set of research gear. The other eight motors are needed for precision orbit correction. The mass of one such satellite is a little under 1,200 kg with more than half of it being the propellant and the scientific payload being only 71 kilos.

The CLUSTER complex also includes 11 instruments for space meteorology out of which France and Britain supplied three each, two came from Germany and the remaining three were provided by Austria, Sweden and the United States.

When the satellite is in orbit, all sorts of masts and antennas are unfolded for communications and scientific measurements (four of these, 50-meters-long each, are used for measuring electrical fields fluctuations around the probe).

The satellites' assembly (the first two arrived in Baikonur on April 29, 2000) was conducted in the Astrium-D chamber at the plant in Friedrichschafen and the testing was done by the IABG Firm in Ottobrunne near Munich. The Central Mission Control of the CLUSTERS is in Darmstadt, Germany. Involved on the Project are eight national data-processing centers - six in Europe, one in China and one in the United States. The whole of this vast R&D potential is subordinated to the central task of solar studies. And the thing is that particles generated there are interacting with the atmosphere and magnetosphere of our planet and the four CLUSTER satellites, while crossing its magnetic field, are to conduct observations of "space weather" when these particles bombard the magnetic shield protecting the Earth.

The prominent French scientist who stood at the roots of the project, Phillipp Escoubet, used to say that the situation looked to him as an endless football game, with particles streaming from the Sun like foot-

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balls. The Earth is the goal and the magnetic shield is the goalkeeper who is doing its best but fails now and then. And when the particles reach their target they upset the near-Earth environment. At times the Sun is very quiet, but when it doubles its activity, it scores twice as many points.

"We shall be making our observations - said the French scientist, - from four points, as if we were watching the game with the help of one camera set behind the goal and another three placed at different angles. In this way we shall be able to observe the magnetic field of the Earth for the first time, which is really wonderful..."

And then came the pre-launch "fever". On July 12 we completed all the preliminary operations-transportation and setting up of the rocket and, last but not least, what we called its general tests. The second pre-launch day - July 13 - was the "Day of the FRIGATE". We embarked on what we call the "control of launch readiness". The TM-6 telemetric system was to be activated in accordance with the program at 4 hours 40 minutes local time. And... it failed to switch on right there and then! On board the FRIGATE there is the TM-4 system which registers booster perimeters. And it was OK. But the TM-6 was to give us data on vibration and overloads at the initial and most dangerous for the "young" satellites stage of placing them into orbit. Will there be no complete report?

Late that evening Ye. Cherny held a general session summing up the events of the second pre-launch day. The technical director of the FRIGATE tests, Deputy General Designer, V. Babakin, said without any traces of panic: "We have been given a warning. During the night we shall work out a program of action. And that means using tomorrow as an extra day of preparation."

V. Malinin, a representative of the Pilyugin R&D Center of Automation and Instrument Engineering and Baikin's Deputy in charge of the Control System, A. Sokolov, who is also Deputy Director in charge of electrical tests, and their closest colleagues spent that night assessing the situation (TM-6 failed to switch on because of a failure of the feeder of the control system) and by the daybreak they produced Launch Program One and cleared it with Baikin.

The main element of this program was a "forestalling strike" - a command from the main Control for activating TM-6 five minutes before the zero hour. And if everything remains normal, that is the way we should act on the D-day.

The program was approved by the evening and it looked as if we could all take some rest before tomorrow's launch. But that was really expecting too much. It turned out that everyone, except Baikin, Malinin, Sokolov and their closest associates, were in for another sleepless night. Why? Because our "client" in the person of leasing ESA and STARS EM specialists declared: we have no right to take another chance with the CLUSTERS and demand exhaustive explanations of any delays of the launch. And the matter is not just TM-6 whose data are, of course, very important, but the reliability of the whole launch program: now that feeder failed to switch on, and then something else, say the satellite separation, could fail after the takeoff.

This rigid stand of our foreign colleagues was fair enough because they were concerned about problems of electromagnetic compatibility of the FRIGATE systems and the invulnerability to jamming of the whole control system.

Now it is time for a slight diversion. Our plant produces booster section L since 1965, the time when Sergei Korolyov handed over to Georgy Babakin the lunar and interplanetary matters as well as section L. Over the past 35 years "mass-produced" L sections were used on scores of missions and there were some puzzling snags with them now and then. Or take the legendary seven - the VOSTOK and SOYUZ spacecraft and their modifications. There were thousands of launches, and there were some really startling surprises now and then. Aerospace technology is no bed of roses.

With all that in mind, what could one really expect from the FRIGATEs when only two of them had been launched by that time?

In a word, our experts had another sleepless night, drawing diagrams and writing technical conclusions. And on the D-day, and before a session of the State Commission which OKays the fuelling of the freighter, they convinced the "client" that the launch was possible. "We believe you", - said the "Europeans" and signed the launch clearance.

... With only minutes to the launch, Ye. Cherny issues his final orders. There is dead silence in the command bunker with the operators - and I know that not from hearsay - holding their breath. The STARSEM representative, F. Barrot, and his interpreter, M. Shakot, have their eyes riveted on the black-and white display screen which shows the rocket ready for the takeoff. The chronometer needles are moving on to the zero hour which is 18.40 p.m. local time. The operator presses the "takeoff boost" button and... lights go out one after the other on the Main Control Panel. The launch readiness is off.

We hear Cherny saying in a loud and even voice that the launch is off. The operator then presses the appropriate button, and it is all over with...


During that night they were able to trace the flaw: in the ground takeoff pneumopanel of Central Block A of the carrier rocket the resistance of electrical circuitry was too low. But why? Three days before the final checks did not reveal a thing which means that the circuitry was in order. The snag must have been in some external factors, like rain or some fuelling errors...

It took the staff but a very short time to remedy the situation by

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drying the circuitry and its insulation. And we were ready for a second try.

In the morning I asked A. Brykov of the State Commission and a leading mind of the Central Aerospace Institute whether or not the delay could erode the image of the "freighter". "No, it will not, - he replied with confidence, - I don't have to tell you of its dependability factor. It is 0.97, and this is not mere calculations or wishful thinking, but the result of whole mountains of statistics. This space carrier is unrivalled in the world. There can be not more than 3 failures in one hundred launches and this is what we report to the client. Apart from all that, July 16 was an official reserve date which the client also knows about. And that means that we are well within the permissible."

On July 16 things were really all different. There was not a cloud in the clear sky from sunrise to dawn. Mother Nature was in a happy mood, same as our TV crews. The "trials and tribulations" of the sleepless night could only be traced on the tired and unshaven faces of the Baikonur Section Chief A. Ivanov, his deputy D. Ponomaryov and their subordinates.

And now Ye. Cherny again takes up his position at the periscope, after a delay of 24 hours... The bunker shakes and vibrates as the rocket finally blasts off on its mission. As a rule, there is a delay of tens of milliseconds between the actual takeoff and the calculations, but on that particular occasion the difference was almost half a second - a mere trifle when you look at the giant rocket, and even then it remained within the permissible limits...

With time I think I shall be able to tell in greater details about the last few pre-launch seconds and the first few minutes of the actual flight. But each time I think of this I feel proud about this technical wonder translated into reality by V. Mishin, S. Kryukov and their teams under the general guidance of Sergei Korolyov.

But to come back to the FRIGATE. Room 320 in the assembly and testing wing of the Center is full of people. Today this is the work station of our General Designer and Director General, S. Kulikov. The "boss" sits in the middle, the way he should, and to his right there is V. Asyushkin, Chief Designer of the FRIGATE, and on his left sits his deputy A. Ushakov who is in touch with the Control Center in Khimki. There is also V. Baikin, the man in charge of the technical tests of the FRIGATE who is soon joined by the State Commission Chairman, A. Kuznetsov, General Designer of the launch complex, I. Barmin, and his first deputy, E. Sokolov, General Designer of the R&D Center of Automation and Instrument Enginee-

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ring, Yu. Trunov, and other chief designers and their deputies and heads of the producer plants: G. Anshakov, A. Soldatenkov, V. Kapitonov, V. Grafinin, G. Sonis, A. Dragun and several others. There are also members of the State Commission - Colonel S. Lozin and Lieutenant-Colonel V. Shorokhov of the Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense. Next to them there are the "acceptance", or clearance experts headed by V. Tikhonov, representatives of the Baikonur Center, including First Deputy Director, Ye. Cherny and secretaries of the State Commission S. Perepelov and S. Ishin.

And in the meantime the FRIGATE with the CLUSTERS was already high over Africa. There was a time when a Soviet vessel was stationed in the Gulf of Guinea picking up data from orbiting boosters. But it is no longer there and the picture could only be cleared closer to the Soviet borders. If the signal arrived when expected, as it did on that occasion, everything was in order. Shortly after we heard a report: "Separation of satellites completed!" and then the happy voice of Deputy General Designer K. Sukhanovfrom Khimki: "Darmstadt is receiving signals from the satellites!". And there was a storm of applause, with people shaking hands and embracing each other.

The reception to mark the successful launch of the CLUSTER-2 satellites by the SOYUZ-FRIGATE freighter was delayed by some twenty minutes: we were waiting for the French heads of the project. They appeared on the scene with bottles of champagne in their hands and beautiful glasses. The head of the Project, R. Bonnet, made an emotional speech extolling our aerospace technology and the specialists behind it. The next speaker, STARSEM President Jean-Ives Le Galls said, if the project was a success and two more CLUSTER-2 satellites went into orbit, he would pile up with new orders the Russians engaged on the FRIGATE project. Among the very late arrivals that day (they were busy checking the ground equipment after the launch) were Baikin's deputies A. Sokolov and V. Malinin and the man in charge of the FRIGATE tests, A. Zolotov, and his team. They were greeted as the winners.

Acting with obvious restraint among the general celebration were the Chief Designer of the FRIGATE, V. Asyushkin, and his close associate, Chief of the Planning Department, A. Smirnov. We heard him saying: "It is too early to celebrate. First, we have to complete the project and there should be four CLUSTER-2 satellites in orbit."

And he knew what he was saying. We were looking forward to the fourth launch of the FRIGATE in August, the decisive one, which completed the first stage of its flight tests. And that moment was still 24 days ahead.


Prior to the launch of the second pair of the satellites I visited the test-and-assembly complex of the PROGRESS Plant on Site 112.

My "tour of inspection" began with what they call the cleaning chamber of STARSEM. Before I went in I had to put on a blue overall with a white cap, white gloves and blue boots with a black strip for discharging static electricity. Then you are put on a "scale" and if the light is green your static electricity is within the permissible and you can enter the chamber with the CLUSTERS.

The pair of the space probes - the top and the bottom ones - were already installed on the FRIGATE and the nose section, in a vertical position, looked very attractive: the big dark-blue "drums" of the satellites were trimmed with dark-gold heat insulation and a similar shield covering the FRIGATE was of light gold color. It all looked very attractive in the bright glow of lamps.

Later that day all of the attachments, painted red, were removed from the carrier, and as the workmen were doing that, representatives of the Quality Control Section and of the client were watching them. Later on all of the redundant gear was put into a specially provided plastic bag.

At the same time, although in a somewhat different way, a similar operation was conducted by the "Europeans". They walked around the satellites with a landing net and their "catch" were the bits of equipment they took off. These pieces were later placed into a specially prepared carrying case which was sealed after due inspection. It must have been a very expensive suitcase, but a very handy one.

The premises were fitted out with TV cameras so that the men in charge of the project could keep an eye on the proceedings from their work stations.

... In the morning on August 6 the service crew took to the launch pad 31 the space rocket SOYUZ-FRIGATE-CLUSTER-2 and did the initial checks. The same crew was to launch the PROGRESS space freighter. The operation was carried out during the night from August 6 to 7.

When they returned, the crew completed the pre-launch operations of both the first and the second day, including the general tests. And no one complained of fatigue. The guys were exchanging jokes like "The more, the merrier!" and looked quite happy.

On August 9, 2000, the second pair of CLUSTERS was put into preliminary orbits, the Russian space experts fulfilled their part of the international bargain.


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