May 16, 2011:
Russia recently launched the fourth Meridian military communications satellite. The Meridian model is replacing the 1960s era Molniya communications birds. About a hundred Molniya satellites were launched, with a 94 percent success rate. Normally, eight Molniyas were needed in orbit to cover the entire planet. That was later reduced to four, as the basic Molniya design was improved. The last Molniya was launched in 2005.
The new Meridian borrows a lot of technology from the GLONASS navigation satellites. The GLONASS birds are very advanced, as they are meant to compete with the American GPS. The original Molniya satellites were simply relays for teletype, telegraph or radio. But as new communications needs developed (TV, digital) these were added. Like most Russian satellite, the early Molniyas only lasted a few years. So there was little risk of getting stuck with obsolete technology up there, or having to wait long to put a new communications tech into service. Meridian is built to Western standards, and expected to last a lot longer, and do a lot more.