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Russian Soyuz-2.1v launch a partial failure

Russian Soyuz-2.1v rocket launches two satellites on Dec. 5, 2015.

A Russian Soyuz-2.1v rocket launches two satellites on Dec. 5, 2015. Photo Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

Two defense satellites were launched by a Russian Soyuz-2.1v rocket at 9:09 a.m. EST (14:09 GMT) on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, from site LC-43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the country’s northwestern Arkhangelsk region. The mission was declared successful shortly after the launch, but the latest media reports indicate that one of the satellites did not separate from the rocket’s upper stage and is most likely lost.

The Soyuz-2.1v rocket was tasked with delivering into orbit the Kanopus-ST satellite with the KYuA-1 spacecraft as a secondary payload. The Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN RF), responsible for the launch operations during this mission, haven’t yet specified which satellite is the one that was lost.

“One of the space apparatuses of the military designation is experiencing issues,” a source in the space industry told RIA Novosti. “According to the preliminary data, it did not separate from the Volga upper stage. At the moment, there are discussions taking place on the removal from orbit and subsequent sinking of the Volga upper stage and the satellite in the interests of the Russian Defense Ministry.”

The launch was initially planned for the second quarter of 2015 and was postponed several times. Finally, the date was set to Dec. 9, but the authorities decided to begin the mission five days earlier on Dec. 4. However, some problem with the payload delayed the launch by one day.

After lifting off, the rocket started a short vertical ascent. Then it turned north, heading to a high-inclination orbit. The first stage of the launch vehicle separated about two minutes into the flight. The second stage flew for nearly four and a half minutes until its separation occurred. Next, the upper stage continued its flight to deploy the duo of satellites into a planned Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The Kanopus-ST and the KYuA-1 spacecraft were supposed to be inserted into the SSO several hours later, receiving official designation Kosmos 2511 and 2512 respectively.

Russian Soyuz-2.1v rocket minutes before the launch of two satellites on Dec. 5, 2015

Russian Soyuz-2.1v rocket minutes before the launch of two satellites on Dec. 5, 2015. Photo Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

Unfortunately, Russian sources say that one of the satellites experienced an anomaly and wasn’t delivered into SSO at a planned altitude of 416 miles (670 kilometers) by 515 miles (830 kilometers), inclined 98.7 degrees.

Kanopus-ST, built by the Russian Production Association Polyot company, is a small remote sensing satellite designed for ocean and weather research. However, Western analysts believe that the secrecy surrounding the mission indicates that it will serve military purposes.

Kanopus-ST weighs about 771 pounds (350 kilograms) and reaches up to 14.4 feet (4.39 meters) when its solar panel is deployed. It features a BIK-GYa-1 microwave radiometer weighing approximately 352 pounds (160 kilograms) and is able to cover a 1.36-mile (2.2-kilometer) wide swath on the ground with a resolution of 7.45 miles (12 kilometers) to up to 100 miles (160 kilometers). It is also equipped with a KMVD-E multispectral camera with a swath of 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) and a spatial resolution of 98-164 feet (30-50 meters).

The first Kanopus satellite was launched in July 2012. The next satellite in the series, Kanopus-V-IK 1, will be launched in 2016.

Little is known about the KYuA-1 spacecraft. According to the information released by Russian media, it is a radar calibration sphere, with a mass of approximately 35 pounds (16 kilograms), designed for the calibration of ground-based radars and to improve orbit determination.

The two-stage Soyuz-2.1v rocket, built by TsSKB Progress in Samara, Russia, that was employed in Saturday’s launch is an upgraded version of a Soyuz-2 booster. The 144-foot (44-meter) tall launch vehicle with a total mass of 348,000 pounds (158,000 kilograms) is designed to put satellites into a variety of orbits. The Soyuz-2.1v is capable of putting up to 6,280 pounds (2,850 kilograms) into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 3,140 pounds (1,400 kilograms) to SSO. The first launch of this version took place from Plesetsk on Dec. 28, 2013, with the Aist 1 microsatellite and a pair of SKRL-756 calibration spheres.

Unlike the Soyuz-2.1b, this version replaces the four-chamber RD-117 engine with an NK-33 single-chamber engine. The second stage of the Soyuz-2-1v is the same as the third stage of the Soyuz-2.1b, powered by an RD-0124 engine.

For Saturday’s mission, the Soyuz-2.1v rocket was used in a configuration with a Volga upper stage, also built by TsSKB Progress. Volga is a small stage that is 10.17 feet (3.1 meters) in diameter and 3.38 feet (1.03 meters) long with a mass of 1,962 pounds (890 kilograms). It is equipped with a single main engine. Vehicle control is provided by an attitude control system consisting of a number of thrusters installed on this stage.

The Volga upper stage is restartable and can support a large number of burns. It is derived from the propulsion system of the Yantar reconnaissance satellite and was developed as a lighter and cheaper alternative to the Fregat upper stage.

Yesterday’s flight was the second orbital mission for the Soyuz-2.1v booster. It was the sixth liftoff from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome this year and the 22nd orbital launch for Russia in 2015 (more than any other country).

Russia is planning six more launches before the end of the year. The next mission is scheduled for Dec. 10 when a Proton-M rocket will send the Garpun communications satellite into orbit. The liftoff will take place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Video Courtesy of Russian Defense Ministry


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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