Zarya - Soviet, Russian and International Spaceflight
carousel image
Russian Mix

Tyneside, UK
2018 Jan 20
Saturday, Day 20

Maintained by:

Missing Cosmos Numbers..... Found?

A Rockot launch 2013 December 25 reportedly orbited three satellites. The Russian Ministry of Defence gave their numbers as Cosmos 2488, 2489 and 2490. They were three Strela/Rodnik store-dump communications satellites for government use.

Three months later, 2014 March 23, a Soyuz rocket launch from Plesetsk put a GLONASS satellite into orbit. At the time, the message seemed to be that it was Cosmos 2491 so everything looked OK and as it should be......

Kobalt Launch - 2014 May

Another Soyuz rocket was used to launch a Kobalt film-type reconnaissance satellite on May 6. Confusion took over immediately when the Ministry of Defence said it was Cosmos 2495, apparently skipping three Cosmos numbers.

Enquiries around the web turned up official Russian documents referring to the GLONASS satellite from March as both Cosmos 2491 (as it was originally tagged) and Cosmos 2494. Since then, the MoD has confirmed the Cosmos 2494 designation.

Where Are the Missing Ones?

Simple deduction says that they must have been orbited between the Strela/Rodnik and GLONASS launches. In that period is one candidate for their launch, the first test of the new Soyuz 2-1v. It carried a pair of spherical, passive, satellites (SKRL-756 №1 and №2) to investigate air drag, and a developmental satellite AIST-1. The two SKRLs are candidates for Cosmos numbers but AIST is not. In some places on the web, the SKRLs are being positively reported as having Cosmos numbers but there is no formal confirmation.

That leaves one 'Cosmos' to find.

December 25 Strela/Rodnik Launch

This was reported in advance, and at launch time, as three satellites - Cosmos 2488 to 2490 inclusive. However, a registration document sent to the UN to discharge Russia's responsibility for reporting its launches shows FOUR Cosmos payloads on the rocket - Cosmos 2488, Cosmos 2489, Cosmos 2490 and Cosmos 2491. All are ascribed a 1495 x 1505 kilometre orbit at 82°.5 degrees inclination. The document has not yet been formally published.

If the document is correct in showing four satellites then the two SKRL spheres from the Soyuz 2-1v mission inherit the designations Cosmos 2492 and Cosmos 2493.

SpaceTrack View of the December 25 Launch

The catalogue from JSpOC as published through SpaceTrack lists the three expected Cosmos satellites (2013-076A, B & C, catalogue numbers 39483 to 39485), the upper stage of the launch vehicle (2013-76D/39486) and an item it calls "BREEZE-KM DEB" (2013-076E/39497) - the block capitals and spelling are JSpOC's. This last object was catalogued on December 31, several days after all the other items from the launch, hence the discontinuity in catalogue numbers.

The Fourth Payload

Briz-KM is the final stage of a Rockot vehicle of the type that launch the Strela/Rodnik satellites. After the Briz-KM had finished its work, it lowered perigee by about 330 kilometres to take it away from the satellites. The 'debris' item remained in the same orbit as the three previously-acknowledged satellites.

Since then, it has showed no sign of manoeuvring where all three of the Strela/Rodnik satellites have fired thrusters at least once.

Previous launches of Strela and their civilian Gonets counterparts over the past five years have not produced debris items, although the 2012-041 launch of a Strela/Rodnik and Gonets mixture did carry a fourth satellite. It hints strongly that this debris item is a small, but previously undeclared, satellite.

What is its purpose? At the moment, no suggestions are forthcoming from this quarter.

The SKRL-756 Satellites

Russia's formal UN Registration of the satellites carried on the Soyuz-2-1v test launch 2013 December 28 does not give Cosmos designations to the two SKRL-756 spheres even though subsequent numberings can only be explained if they are part of the Cosmos sequence.

As explained earlier, the Cosmos numbering anomaly was triggered by the 2014 May 6 Kobalt-M apparently being designated out of sequence as Cosmos 2495 and the GLONASS from March being variously listed as Cosmos 2491 and Cosmos 2494. A further twist occurred when a draft submission to the UN, dated May 12 - six days AFTER the Cosmos 2495 launch, showed the GLONASS as Cosmos 2492!

First, it indicates a lack of communication between Russian government officials. Second it suggests maybe that the two SKRL-756 satellites never had Cosmos numbers in the first place. Their subsequent renaming may have been the result of 'someone' making an assumption at the time of the Cosmos 2495 launch on May 6. Unfortunately, that 'someone' was not in communication with 'someone else' (Denis Lyskov, Deputy Director of Roscosmos) who submitted the draft UN document on May 12.

May 23 Strela/Rodnik Launch

2014 May 23, a further triplet of Strela-3/Rodnik satellites was orbited. Like the 2013 December launch, it spawned an unusual piece of debris. As in December, only three satellites were included in the launch announcement from Russia's Ministry of Defence. Whether the fourth object is indeed a satellite has to await further information coming out but Radar Cross Section measurements published through SpaceTrack put it in a similar class to December's 'extra' Cosmos and earlier Yubileiny satellites.

It does raise another possibility though, that the two extra satellites are genuine debris items and that the 'someone' in the Russian MoD inadvertently classified a piece of space debris as a satellite. Whatever the truth, these events can be explained by the Cock-up rather than the Conspiracy theory of history.

Cosmos Summary

On the basis of what we have at the moment, recent Cosmos designations are as shown below but the sequence appears to be an administrative 'tidy-up' after a series of errors in the bureaucracy of the Russian Government:

Cosmos 2488 - 2013-076A/39483, Strela/Rodnik
Cosmos 2489 - 2013-076B/39484, Strela/Rodnik
Cosmos 2490 - 2013-076C/39485, Strela/Rodnik
Cosmos 2491 - 2013-076E/39497, Unknown name/purpose

Cosmos 2492 - 2013-078A/39490, SKRL-756 №1
Cosmos 2493 - 2013-078B/39491, SKRL-756 №2

Cosmos 2494 - 2014-012A/39620, Uragan/GLONASS (listed as Cosmos 2492 in Russia's draft UN Registration)

Cosmos 2495 - 2014-025A/39732, Kobalt-M

Cosmos 2496 - 2014-028A/39761, Strela/Rodnik
Cosmos 2497 - 2014-028B/39762, Strela/Rodnik
Cosmos 2498 - 2014-028C/39763, Strela/Rodnik
Cosmos 2499?? - 2014-028E/39765, Unknown name/purpose, or debris

Full confirmation that this is correct and the nature of the unknown satellite are awaited. Whether Russia launched an undeclared satellite in secret or whether it was an administrative failure also remains to be seen.

Page date: 2014 May 8
Updated: 2014 May 31

Copyright © Robert Christy, all rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited