Site: Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI)
4 Volokolamskoye St.
Moscow 125871, Russia

Date Visited: November 9, 1992

Report Author: N. Helm



N. Helm
E. Miller


Academician Oleg Alifanov

Dean, College of Cosmosnauts


Prof. Yuri Zakharov

Vice Dean

Prof. George Uspensky

Chief Planning Dept.

Prof. Gorgisky

Prof. Krasilshikov


The Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) is a leading design center for aeronautics and astronautics technologies and programs as well as being the premier academic institution in that field. The former Soviet Union has a strong tradition of having leading academic institutions such as MAI be the program initiators and designers for major space efforts.

The MAI has 2,500 graduate level students with 800 professors and research staff and is organized around nine colleges: (1) Aircraft Design, (2) Propulsion and Engines, (3) Automated Control, (4) Radio Electronics for Flight, (5) Management and Economics of Space, (6) Cosmonauts and Aerospace, (7) Robotics and Weapons Installation, (8) Applied Mathematics, and (9) Applied Mechanics.

Each of these colleges is also compartmentalized, with College #6, Cosmonauts and Aerospace, being made up of nine departments, with the numbering system relating to their college. Thus, Department 601 is Space Systems, Engineering and Rocket Design; 602, Construction and Design of Automatic Flight Vehicles; 603, Materials and Mechanics; 604, Flight Vehicle Guidance, Navigation and System Analysis; 605, Complex Test of Flight Vehicles; 606, Manufacturing and Production; 607, Life Support Systems and Safety; 608, Applied Hydromechanics; and 609, CAD/CAM Systems.

A noteworthy educational concept was shown to us upon arrival at MAI. A large open bay area that could be used for production and test was now filled with both engineering models and actual current and past flight hardware. For example, all four stages of a Proton launcher were stacked together along with what looked like an early model of a Lutch satellite. Students are able to work with these models to get an accurate idea of flight hardware parameters.

MAI has established or is a participant in a number of organizations that provide R&D for, as well as joint-venture commercial activities with, national and international entities. For example, the International Center for Advanced Studies provides educational (short) courses to the University of Alabama at Huntsville, MIT and universities in China and Germany. An annual Summer Course in Moscow attracted 3,500 primarily foreign students this year. The COSMOS organization has direct access to all assets of MAI and can enter into joint ventures and business activities. CONCERN COSMOS and GLAVCOSMOS are other member companies, with the latter just announcing a joint effort with a U.S. organization called RIMSAT for five satellites delivered in orbit for $150 million. SLAVACOSMOS is active in Europe and may represent Russia in the ESA organization.


Russian communications and broadcast satellites are normally separated into three orbital groups: (1) GEO; (2) highly inclined orbits (HIO), also called MOLNYIA orbits after the large series of Soviet spacecraft which operate in that orbit; and (3) LEO satellites.

GEO Satellites

Much of MAI's GEO satellite work is focused on improving and extending the life time of the current designs. Broadcast satellites such as EKRAN and GALS, that currently provide only a few channels of TV, are being upgraded and replaced by the GELIKON satellite that will provide 12 channels directly to factories, schools and homes. Coverage of the complete Eurasian land mass will be provided by five satellites, directly to roof top antennas as small as 0.6 to 0.9 m in diameter. The GORIZONT communications satellites are also being upgraded from five to ten year lifetime, with added transponders and capabilities, especially at Ku-band. When MAI officials were asked what outstanding technologies were being developed, their response was improved orbital positioning systems, to maintain a 0.1 degree position.

HIO Satellites

The MOLNYIA satellites have served the former Soviet Union well, with greater power directed to the northern extremes of the country. As current and proposed GEO satellites have greatly increased power, and larger numbers of users in most communications applications have prompted the need for smaller, less expensive ground terminals, it was felt that MOLNYIA orbit systems were not receiving the attention being given to GEO and LEO systems. However, a new satellite named MAYAK (Beacon) is being designed for HIO use.

LEO satellites

This is the area where most new developments were demonstrated. A number of new LEO systems are being developed for domestic and international service. Two systems, GONETS and KOSKON, were discussed in some detail.

GONETS is being built by NPO PM in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and will consist of 36 small satellites, in five or six orbital planes. The first two of the GONETS-D commercial satellites were launched in July, 1992, along with four similar spacecraft that will be active parts of the Russian domestic SEXTET system. The six 225 kg satellites were launched together on a Cyclone rocket and are reported to be in correct 1300 km (800 mile) orbits and operating properly. The transmission system will operate at UHF and provide low bit rate (8, 16 and 64 kbits/sec) digital channels in a store-and-forward configuration to small, very inexpensive ground terminal equipment. The first generation system, planned to be operational in 1995, will concentrate on E-mail and facsimile transmissions in a data store-and-forward format that will be used primarily by fixed users, such as banks and the financial industry.

The second generation GONETS, planned to begin in 1997, will add telephone communications to the data transmissions. More importantly, the system will add ISLs to the system, so the communications flow can go around the 36 small satellites and down to the appropriate ground user who could be equipped with a hand-held telephone. As the system transitions from store-and-forward to near-real-time communications, it will become more valuable to the mobile user. The GONETS system is being managed by a consortium, SMOLSAT, that has offices in Moscow and New York.

KOSKON, the second LEO system, is being built in NPO Polyot and is planned as a much more sophisticated system than GONETS, with fifty LEO satellites, ten spacecraft in five orbital planes. While it was stated that the KOSKON system is planned to be much less expensive than IRIDIUM, the 800 kg spacecraft has a number of features that seem to be similar to the proposed IRIDIUM satellites, such as OBP and in-orbit satellite links. The millimeter wave communications links can move forward and backward to satellites in each orbital plane as well as cross- connecting satellites in one plane with satellites in another plane. The KOSKON system will provide active 16 and 32 kHz communications channels for digital voice and other data applications. KOSKON also provides an in-channel positioning service similar to OMNITRACS. It was stated that the first launch of a KOSKON satellite may be as soon as late 1992 or 1993. No details were provided on the use of the ISLs in the early stages of the program.


The Moscow Aviation Institute is a large academic and research organization that provides design services as well as research and development to a number of the space organizations in Russia. MAI officials were very hospitable and open to discussions about potential joint venture opportunities. However, the officials were reserved in discussing advanced technologies, not only because of traditional barriers to U.S. officials, but also because of the large number of new joint venture organizations in Russia that are taking a competitive stance in working with foreign companies to exploit the current space infrastructure. There are at least ten new satellite companies or organizations in Russia formed into joint ventures that are looking for foreign investment. One example is COSCON, which wants to provide GORIZONT satellites, with telephony, facsimile and data networks, to bridge American and European markets. Another is a fixed and mobile satellite system called "Marathon," proposed as early as 1990 to use 30 m antennas built around 19,000 kg payloads. Marathon was to have the capability to connect some 350,000 ships, planes and mobile users with a series of satellites in GEO and HIO orbits. The initial Marathon program was cancelled because there was not a terrestrial base of telephones and mobile radios to use the system efficiently. With foreign investment, the system is being proposed again under the name of Globis. This is explained in more detail in the KOMETA site report.!#flag

It is apparent that opportunities exist for cooperative scientific and commercial activities with the Russian institutes and the new joint venture companies. The concept that Russian space technologies are all "heavy" and approximately five years behind those of the West is just not true across the board. There are technology areas, such as computer circuits, where it may be true. There are other areas, such as launch vehicles and mechanical structures, where Russian technology is equal to, if not better than, any displayed in the West. The current political and economic climate calls for greatly increased international cooperation.

Published: July 1993; WTEC Hyper-Librarian