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Russia launches three Rodnik military satellites into orbit

Russian Rokot rocket with three Rodnik satellites launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Sept. 23, 2015.

Russian Rokot rocket with three Rodnik satellites launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Sept. 23, 2015. Photo Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

The Russian Aerospace Defence Forces (VKO) successfully launched a Rokot light-class carrier rocket with three Rodnik military satellites this week. The launch took place at 6:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 23 (22:00 GMT; 1:00 a.m. Moscow Time Thursday, Sept. 24) from the launch site 133/3 at the Plesetsk Space Center, located in northwestern Russia.

After the launch, the rocket burned its two lower stages for approximately five and a half minutes to send its Briz-KM upper stage on its way to conduct a two-burn mission. The first of which was planned to boost the stack into an elliptical transfer orbit followed by a long coast phase.

Spacecraft separation occurred about one hour and 45 minutes into the flight. The upper stage delivered the satellites to a circular orbit just over 932 miles (1,500 km) in altitude. Control of the satellites has since been handed over to the customer.

“The light-class Rokot carrier rocket successfully put into orbit at the designated time three Russian Defense Ministry space vehicles,” a Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson said.

The three Rodnik spacecraft, also known as Strela-3M, are part of the Strela satellite constellation operated by the Russian Defense Ministry to deliver secure communications to government agencies and military operators. These satellites are based on the civilian Gonets comsats.

Current Gonets spacecraft, designated Gonets D1M, have a launch mass of about 617 lbs. (280 kilograms) and provide 16 channels for uplink and 16 for downlink. The Gonets satellites are intended to provide digital user terminal GLONASS navigation system positioning data, as well as electronic mail services. They are equipped with solar arrays providing 40W of electrical power and nickel-hydrogen batteries and UHF transponders. The spacecraft are expected to be operational for seven years.

The first of the Strela satellites was launched in August of 1964.

Wednesday’s mission is also believed to have orbited the DOSAAF-85 technology demonstrator and amateur radio spacecraft, but the information hasn’t been yet confirmed by the Russian media. Whether this launch also carried a fourth satellite will be confirmed when tracking data becomes available.

The Rokot launch vehicle, developed by the Russian Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, is a modification of the RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) two-stage ballistic missile that is being decommissioned from Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces. The 95.6 ft. (29.14 m) tall three-stage Rokot is able to deliver over two metric tons of cargo to a Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The SS-19, which was originally developed as the Russian UR-100N ICBM series, was designed and developed between 1964 and 1975. Over 360 SS-19 ICBMs were manufactured during the 70s and 80s.

The Rokot’s first stage is powered by three RD-0233 and one RD-0234 engines. The second stage uses a single RD-0235 as well as an RD-0236 engine.

The 8.5 ft. (2.59 m) long Briz-KM is a Russian liquid-propellant orbital insertion upper stage manufactured by Khrunichev. This upper stage contains a modern, autonomous control/guidance system which controls all three stages. The upper stage multiple engine ignition capability allows implementation of various payload injection profiles.

The Rokot launches are being offered by Eurockot Launch Services. This German-Russian joint venture company was formed specifically to offer this vehicle commercially.

The Rokot booster has been successfully launched from the Plesetsk facility 23 times since its first flight on May 16, 2000. The previous launch of a Rokot took place on March 31, 2015, when it delivered three Gonets-M satellites into orbit.


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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