The company history
In the 1950 - 1960s, the Soviet Union and the United States were the world’s recognized leaders in space exploration. Led by Sergey Korolev, the founder of practical space activities, a group of Soviet scientists designed the first artificial earth satellite which was successfully orbited on 4 October 1957. The launch of the first satellite (‘Sputnik’ in Russian) marked the beginning of humankind’s space era.
In the early 60s commercial viability of communications and broadcasting satellites was becoming increasingly apparent, and so was their vital importance. The USSR’s Molniya series and the US Telstar satellites pioneered the explosion of satellite-supported communications world-wide. The Soviet Union was a trailblazer in using communications satellites in high-elliptical orbits and in early direct TV ventures.
The first Molniya-1 telecoms satellite was launched on 23 April 1965. Its high-elliptical orbit supported the coverage of the USSR territory and visibility from any point for eight hours. Molniya-1 was successfully used in pilot satellite TV and telephony communication sessions between Moscow and Vladivostok.
In the remarkably short period of two years (1965-67), as many as twenty ground stations were simultaneously built and commissioned in the USSR’s eastern provinces to support the Orbita (“Orbit”) System. The Orbita transceiver station, known as the K-40 Cabin, was also built in the same timeframe in the Shchelkovo District near Moscow within the perimeter used by the Moscow Power Engineering Institute for field tests and practice. The Orbita transceiver station was the first such facility operated by RSCC. Currently it is the location for one of the key RSCC infrastructure facilities, the Satellite Communications Center called Medvezhyi Ozera (“Bear Lakes”). The Orbita System became the world’s first circular TV and distributive satellite-supported system which made the most efficient use of satellite communications capabilities.
Selecting sites for the Orbita ground stations was given special attention. The sites had to be as close as possible to the TV broadcasting centers, and they had to be built in a manner preventing interference from tropospheric radio-relay lines that operated in the same frequency range. An important technical solution was to use relatively small-diameter (12m) parabolic antennas. At the time, Intelsat was building its stations equipped with oversized and expensive 25-32m antennas.
From 4 November 1967 transmissions of Central TV content via the Orbita System became regular. It is the 4th of November 1967 which is considered the RSCC’s birthday. In 1968, the Satellite Communications Station was set up by the order of the USSR Ministry of Communications. Later the Station became the operator of the Russian non-military telecoms and broadcasting satellite constellation, and was named Russian Satellite Communications Company. This state-owned entity subsequently became a Federal State Unitary Enterprise (“FGUP”) in status on 19April 2001, and was given the name of FGUP Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC). Currently RSCC is the third oldest satellite operator in the world.
The history of RSCC is inextricably linked to the history of Russian broadcasting and communication satellites. In the USSR, preference was given to manned and scientific spacecraft, which is why performance of the early domestic geo-stationary communication satellites was substantially inferior to that of foreign ones. However, there were also unique products: in 1976 the world’s first GEO satellite for direct TV called Ekran was launched. Ekran operated in the below-1GHz band and had powerful onboard repeater (up to 300 W), providing TV services to sparsely populated territories in Siberia, Far North and parts of Far East. Ekran was assigned 714 and 754 MHz, and these frequencies supported rather simple and inexpensive receivers. Ekran was, in fact, the first DTV system in the world.
An important phase in the RSCC history was satellite-supported transmission of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games held in Moscow. To address the complicated task, the Satellite Communications Center was set up in Dubna near Moscow, currently the largest teleport in Russia and Eastern Europe. The Satellite Communications Center called Vladimir, founded in the Vladimir Region in 1971, also received an additional boost to meet the needs of the Olympic Games. RSCC ground infrastructure successfully ensured the world-wide coverage of the Olympics and live telecasts throughout the Soviet Union and other countries, including those in the Atlantic region.
In the 80s, all activities related to development of national satellite constellation were virtually discontinued. The first new Russian communications and broadcasting satellite, Express, was commissioned 15 years after the first Gorizont was orbited.
In the early 90s, the new economic situation prompted the defense industry to begin offering their world-class products to civilian users. This new phase in the communication and broadcasting development in Russia in the 90s was not all about using international hardware but also included the best domestic equipment.
In 1998, in the context of the Federal Space Program of Russia, RSCC signed a contract with NPO PM, a domestic spacecraft manufacturer, for design and production of new up-to-date Express-A series satellites with enhanced technical parameters. The satellite payloads were manufactured by Alcatel, France. In 2000, two satellites of Express-A series were successfully launched into orbit and became forerunners of the National Satellite Constellation Renovation Program.
In the 2003-2009 period RSCC’s satellite constellation was complemented by seven Express AM-series spacecraft and one Express MD1 small satellite. RSCC has also taken over control and day-to-day operational management of its satellites which has made it possible to considerably enhance service quality and reliability. The company’s efforts to further develop state-of-the-art information and communications services and to enter new regional markets have not passed unnoticed: at the international satellite summit in Paris (September 2009) RSCC was recognized as the best regional satellite operator of the year in the world.
Currently the Company provides space segment capacity to users in 35 countries and, with its orbital and frequency capacity, is a confident member of the world’s ten largest satellite operators. In 2012 the RSCC constellation includes 11 satellites that are positioned along the geostationary arc extending from 14oW to 140oE. The Company’s ground infrastructure includes five satellite communications centers in European Russia, Siberia and the Far East, as well as the very modern Shabolovka Technical Center in Moscow.
An ambitious growth strategy has been mapped out by RSCC. With a record number of seven new spacecraft being built as of late 2012, the strategy contemplates the commissioning and operation of the most up-to-date satellites and the reshaping of the Company business model from the infrastructure-based to universal. It is RSCC’s strategic goal to become, by 2020, a member of the five largest global players in the satellite communications market.