Yesterday's successful Soyuz rocket launch was not only a return-to-flight mission for the launch vehicle, but also fulfilled Russia's goal of restoring its GLONASS navigation satellite system to full operations.
Bob Christy (@Zarya_Info) of the Zarya.info website tweeted today: "GLONASS - the constellation is complete, it was last in this state 15 years ago."
GLONASS is Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and requires a constellation of 24 satellites to provide three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) global coverage. Over the past decade and a half the number of operational satellites dipped to only about half that many. Restoring the system to full, global coverage became a priority for Russian President Dimitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In 2008, Putin signed an executive order adding $2.6 billion to the GLONASS budget to increase the number of satellites from the 16 operational at that time to 30 by 2011.
They hoped to have 24 operational satellites by the end of 2010, but those plans were spoiled by the failure of a Proton launch vehicle carrying three GLONASS satellites last December. That failure was cited as one of the reasons that Russian space agency head Anatoly Perminov lost his job a few months later. Other Russian space officials also reportedly were sacked.
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