Cosmos 2173 was part of a 6-satellite Russian military navigation system distributed in orbital planes spaced 30 degrees apart, and launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome aboard a Cosmos rocket. Navigation information was derived from Doppler-shifted VHF transmissions (approximately 150 and 400 MHz) of the satellite position and orbital data. By acquiring fixes from several satellite, a user's location could be calculated with an accuracy of 100 m. The time needed to ascertain a position was dependent upon the user's latitude and the number of operational spacecraft in orbit. Normally, accurate location determination could be made within 1-2 hours.
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