Spaceflight Insider

Russia to launch Geo-IK-2 satellite on Saturday amid protests in Canada

Russian Rokot launch (archive).

Russian Rokot launch (archive photo). Photo Credit: Russian Federal Ministry of Defence

Russia is gearing up to launch its newest Geo-IK-2 geodesy satellite atop a Rokot booster on Saturday, June 4, amid strong voices of concern in Canada. The mission raised worries among Canadian environmentalists due to the fact that the second stage of the launch vehicle, filled with toxic fuel, is slated to splashdown into the Baffin Bay – within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The Rokot booster is scheduled to be launched at 10:00 a.m. EDT (14:00 GMT) from Site 133/3 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome located in northern Russia. It is scheduled to deliver the Geo-IK-2 spacecraft into low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) and inclined 99.4 degrees, from which it will map Earth’s gravity fields, build regional geodetic networks, as well as perform marine geoid and tide sensing services.

The satellite, designated Geo-IK-2 No.12, was built by Russia’s ISS Reshetnev company. It weighs around 1.4 metric tons and is based on the three-axis stabilized Uragan-M bus. It features two deployable solar arrays and is equipped with a radar altimeter, laser retroreflectors, and a GLONASS/GPS receiver. The satellite is expected to begin the formation of Russia’s next-generation space-based geodetic system.

The previous Geo-IK-2 satellite (No.11) was launched from Plesetsk in February 2011 on a Rokot booster with a Briz-KM upper stage. However, the mission was unsuccessful as the satellite was placed into a lower orbit than had been planned. It was intended to operate in a circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), but it remained in an elliptical transfer orbit of 198.2 by 654.3 miles (319 km × 1,053 km) after the Briz-KM failed to fire its scheduled second burn. The spacecraft was declared lost in June 2011 and re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in July 2013.

Artist's rendering of the Geo-IK-2 satellite.

Artist’s rendering of the Geo-IK-2 satellite. Image Credit: ISS Reshetnev

Geo-IK-2 No.12 was shipped to Plesetsk on March 31, aboard an IL-76 aircraft. The satellite underwent necessary pre-launch preparations at the Cosmodrome to be ready for liftoff in May; however, due to technical reasons, the start of the mission was postponed to June 4.

The Rokot launch vehicle that will be used in Saturday’s launch is a 95-feet (29-meter) tall liquid-fueled three-stage rocket manufactured by Eurockot Launch Services. It is a derivative of the UR-100N (SS-19 Stiletto) intercontinental ballistic missile. With a total mass of 107 metric tons, the booster is capable of delivering up to two metric tons into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 1.2 metric tons into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Rokot uses hydrazine as fuel, which is known to be extremely toxic. The rocket’s second stage will fall over a remote stretch of water between Greenland and the southern tip of Ellesmere Island, where Canada has jurisdiction over protecting the marine environment. Canadian environmentalists fear that the splashdown of the rocket’s debris laden with toxic propellant will bring a devastating outcome for the local ecosystem.

“The idea of dropping a missile full of toxic chemicals in the Arctic waters off Baffin Island is just as preposterous as drilling for oil there,” said Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Alex Speers-Roesch.

He also noted that dumping this toxic waste would be a violation of international and Canadian law.

Michael Byers, a professor of international law and an Arctic expert at the University of British Columbia, recalled that hydrazine has devastated the environment around the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He added that Canada should be pushing for a global ban on the use of hydrazine as a rocket propellant.

Despite the protests regarding the upcoming launch, the final preparations for the start of the mission are in full swing. Russia’s ambassador to Canada, as well the Canadian government, hasn’t yet made a statement about the criticism, and the mission schedule seems to be unthreatened.

For Saturday’s launch, Rokot will be used in a configuration with a Briz-KM upper stage. It is a liquid-propellant fueled stage manufactured by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, designed to boost payloads into orbit. It is composed of a central core and an auxiliary propellant tank that is jettisoned in flight following the depletion of the stage’s propellant.

Briz-KM is 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) long and 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) in diameter. With a mass of about 6.5 metric tons, this stage uses one S5.98M engine burning for up to 50 minutes in order to deliver a payload into orbit.

The Briz-KM control system includes an onboard computer, a three-axis gyro stabilized platform, and a navigation system. The quantity of propellant carried is dependent on specific mission requirements and is varied to maximize mission performance.

Saturday’s launch will be the second Rokot flight this year and the fifth orbital liftoff conducted from Plesetsk in 2016. Russia’s next launch is planned for June 8 when a Proton-M rocket with Briz-M upper stage will liftoff from Baikonur carrying the Intelsat 31 communications satellite.


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.

Reader Comments

Rodger Raubach

This seems to be another case where hyper-environmentalism is blowing things all out of proportion. The hydrazine should be mostly consumed by the burn, and even a residual of a metric ton of the chemical would “contaminate” a square mile of ocean 100 feet deep to a “pollution level” of ~ 30 ppb. This is getting down to a detection limit problem of current GC/mass spec instrumentation. Then the mixing of this quantity of “toxic chemicals” being diluted over 100 square miles and to a depth of 1000 feet–it’s virtually undetectable.

Rodger, your estimate assumes the hydrazine disperses evenly.

Rodger Raubach

My estimate was also on the high side, by assuming the density of hydrazine is the same as that of water–which it isn’t. I was assuming also dispersion by normal wave action and any concentrated amount would rapidly disperse. The long term contamination is the issue that should count. Considering what else has been disposed of by simply dumping it in the oceans over the years, this is not something that should be handled in a state of panic. Get a long term accord in place that discourages this from happening. I suspect that most of the hydrazine will be burned up or vaporized on reentry.

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