Bulgaria 1300, the first Bulgarian satellite

The spacecraft Bulgaria 1300, the first Bulgarian satellite, or Interkosmos 22, was a research satellite, that carried a set of plasma, particles, fields, and optical experiments designed and constructed in Bulgaria on a satellite bus provided by the Soviet Union as part of the Interkosmos program. Bulgaria’s first artificial satellite was named after the 1300th anniversary of the foundation of the Bulgarian state. It was designed to study the ionosphere and magnetosphere of the Earth.

The spacecraft, which was successfully inserted in a near-polar orbit, was three-axis stabilised, based on the VNIIEM built Meteor bus, with the negative Z-axis pointing toward the nadir and the X-axis pointing along the velocity vector. The outer skin of the spacecraft, including the solar panels, was coated with a conducting material in order to allow the proper measurement of electric fields and low energy plasma. Both active and passive thermal control were employed. The solar panels supplied two kW and batteries were used during eclipse periods. For data storage, there were two tape recorders, each with a capacity of sixty megabits. The transmitter radiated about 10 W in the 130 MHz band.

Bulgaria 1300, the first Bulgarian satellite

The satellite, weighing one thousand and five hundred kilograms, was developed by the Bulgarian Space Agency around the “Meteor” bus, provided by the Soviet Union as part of the Interkosmos program. The Meteor spacecraft are weather observation satellites launched by the USSR and Russia. The Meteor satellite series was developed during the 1960s. The Meteor satellites were designed to monitor atmospheric and sea-surface temperatures, humidity, radiation, sea ice conditions, snow-cover, and clouds. Assembly of Bulgaria 1300, the first Bulgarian satellite, took place in Bulgaria, and the spacecraft was launched from Plesetsk on August 7, 1981. During that same year the Bulgarian government organised a massive celebration to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the country’s founding.

The Plesetsk Cosmodrome, founded in the late 1950s, is a Russian spaceport located in Mirny, Arkhangelsk Oblast, about eight hundred kilometres north of Moscow and approximately two hundred kilometres south of Arkhangelsk. Originally developed as an ICBM site for the R-7 missile, it also served for numerous satellite launches using the R-7 and other rockets. Its high latitude makes it useful only for certain types of launches, especially the Molniya orbits. Plesetsk has seen considerably more activity since the 2000s.

A Molniya (meaning “Lightning” in Russian) orbit, is a type of satellite orbit designed to provide coverage over high latitudes. It is a highly elliptical orbit with an inclination of sixty-three point four degrees, an argument of perigee of two hundred and seventy degrees, and an orbital period of approximately half a sidereal day. The name comes from a series of Soviet/Russian Molniya communications satellites which have used this type of orbit since the mid-1960s.

The Molniya orbit has a long dwell time over the hemisphere of interest, while moving very quickly over the other. The orbit’s high inclination provides a high angle of view to communications and monitoring satellites covering high latitudes. Geostationary orbits, which are necessarily inclined over the equator, can only view these regions from a low angle, hampering performance. In practice, a satellite in a Molniya orbit serves the same purpose for high latitudes as a geostationary satellite does for equatorial regions, except that multiple satellites are required for continuous coverage.

The first Bulgarian satellite’s legal status

What are satellites? They are space object. The term Object in reference to outer space was first used in 1961 in General Assembly Resolution 1721 (XVI) titled International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space to describe any object launched by States into outer space. Professor Bin Cheng, a world authority on International Air and Space Law, has noted that members of the COPUOS during negotiations over the space treaties treated spacecraft and space vehicles as synonymous terms. The Space Object can be considered as the conventional launcher, the reusable launcher, the satellite, the orbital station, the probe, the impactor, the space telescope…

The term “space object” is not precisely defined by the Onusian space treaties. Let’s note that the five outer space treaties use such phrases as “objects launched into outer space”, object placed “in orbit around the Earth”, “in orbit around or other trajectory to or around the Moon”, or “around other celestial bodies within the solar system, other than the Earth”. Some of the treaties refer also to “spacecraft”, or “landed or constructed on a celestial body”, “man-made space objects”, “space vehicle”, “supplies”, “equipment”, “installations”, “facilities” and “stations”.

Let’s remember that “A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose”, article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969. In addition, “Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31: (a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable”, article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969.

Let’s recall that a space object causing damage triggers international third-party liability under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (entered into force in September 1972). Article I (d) of which enounces that “the term space object includes component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicle and parts thereof”. Its Article II adds that “A launching State shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space object on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft in flight”.

A space object requires, thanks to the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force in September 1976), registration. Article II of which states that “When a space object is launched into Earth orbit or beyond, the launching State shall register the space object by means of an entry in an appropriate registry which it shall maintain. Each launching State shall inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the establishment of such a registry”.

Finally, the term space object effectively triggers application of much of both the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (entered into force in October 1967) and the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force in December 1968). Article VII of the first declares that “Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies”.

Article 5 of the latter states that “1. Each Contracting Party which receives information or discovers that a space object or its component parts has returned to Earth in territory under its jurisdiction or on the high seas or in any other place not under the jurisdiction of any State, shall notify the launching authority and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 2. Each Contracting Party having jurisdiction over the territory on which a space object or its component parts has been discovered shall, upon the request of the launching authority and with assistance from that authority if requested, take such steps as it finds practicable to recover the object or component parts. 3. Upon request of the launching authority, objects launched into outer space or their component parts found beyond the territorial limits of the launching authority shall be returned to or held at the disposal of representatives of the launching authority, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return”.

The Outer Space Treaty doesn’t really provide a definition for “object launched into outer space” other than an indication in Article VIII that it includes the “component parts” of the “object launched into outer space”. It states that “A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body. Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return”.

We can conclude by saying that Bulgaria 1300, the first Bulgarian satellite, was a space object.