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Russia’s Vostochny spaceport to debut with the launch of Soyuz-2.1a rocket

Soyuz-2.1a rocket awaits its launch at the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Soyuz-2.1a rocket awaits its launch at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Photo Credit: Roscosmos.

After being troubled by numerous setbacks and delays, Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome is finally ready and all set for its debut launch this week. The spaceport, located in the Amur Region in the Russian Far East, will inaugurate its operations with the flight of a Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrying a trio of satellites. Liftoff is currently scheduled for Tuesday, April 26, at 10:01 p.m. EDT (2:01 GMT on April 27) from the cosmodrome’s Site 1S.

Soyuz-2.1a rocket in the Mobile Service Tower at the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Soyuz-2.1a rocket in the Mobile Service Tower at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

The construction of Vostochny has been disrupted many times by financial problems, corruption scandals, technical difficulties, and even by a workers strike. Now, the authorities believe that the spaceport has tackled all the obstacles and is finally ready to start its operational life.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket scheduled for launch on Tuesday is currently standing tall at the launch site and is ready for final checks before its scheduled flight. The spaceport was planned to be ready to launch its maiden mission in December of 2015, but that was postponed until April 2016 due to construction errors. It was reported that a rocket assembly building had incorrect dimensions and was too small to house Soyuz-2 rockets.

Arriving at Vostochny in September 2015, the rocket, due to the delays, remained in its transport containers until January of this year (2016). Then, the integration process began with the assembly of the launch vehicle getting underway. Meanwhile, its payload of a trio of satellites was delivered to the spaceport.

On March 21, the rocket was rolled out for the first time to conduct a series of tests of the booster and its upper stage. Two days later, the teams carried out simulations of propellant loading aboard the rocket. After these tests and simulations, on March 30, the State Commission approved the final launch date.

In mid-April, the spacecraft’s electrical and mechanical interfaces were connected to the Soyuz’s Volga upper stage. The satellites were encapsulated in the payload fairing on April 18.

The second rollout of the rocket was conducted on Saturday, April 23. This saw it placed on the launch pad, where final checks were performed. The vehicle is now erect at the launch site, awaiting liftoff.

The mission’s primary passenger is the Lomonosov satellite (also known as MVL-300). Built by the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the spacecraft was named to honor the 300th birthday of Russian scientist Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov. Weighing about 1,300 lbs. (600 kg), the satellite is based on the Kanopus bus. Lomonosov features two deployable fixed solar arrays and could generate power of up to 300 W. It is expected to be operational for up to five years.

Lomonosov’s main instrument is the Tracking Ultraviolet Set Up (TUS) detector, which will be used for measurements of fluorescent light in the Earth’s atmosphere. Other instruments include the Block for X-ray and gamma-ray detection (BDRG); a 20 cm UV-optic telescope and X-ray camera to study gamma-bursts, called UFFO; two optic cameras with a super-wide field of vision, named ShOK; the Dosimeter of Electrons, PROtons and Neutrons (DEPRON); the Electron Loss and Fields Investigator for Lomonosov (ELFIN-L), and the IMISS-1 device to test the performance quality of microelectromechanical inertial measuring modules in space.

The main goal of the Lomonosov satellite is to observe gamma-ray bursts, high-energy cosmic rays, and transient phenomena in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket will also launch a Russian high-resolution ground mapping microsatellite, called Aist-2D, designed to conduct scientific experiments and testing remote sensing equipment. It will test the use of various hardware and ground stations, receiving and processing Earth observation data in the optical and radar bands, as well as technology application of online tracking for scientific experiments in space with the help of communication satellites and the Internet.

The payload of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket being integrated with the Volga upper stage.

The payload of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket being integrated with the Volga upper stage. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Developed by the Samara State Aerospace University (SSAU), Aist-2D weighs around 117 lbs. (53 kg) and is fitted with solar cells and batteries. The spacecraft is expected to operate for about three years.

The smallest payload of the Soyuz-2.1a vehicle is the SamSat-218, also built by SSAU. It is a two-unit CubeSat with a mass of only 8.8 lbs. (4 kg) and an additional empty one-unit compartment for aerodynamic stabilization. The tiny spacecraft will demonstrate attitude stabilization by using aerodynamic forces. It will develop algorithms helpful for nanosatellites orientation control.

The trio of satellites will be launched into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

The Soyuz 2.1a rocket that is being used for this launch is 151 feet (46.1 meters) tall and has a diameter of 9.68 feet (2.95 meters). It can deliver payloads weighing up to 7.8 metric tons to LEO and 2.8 metric tons to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It is suitable for cargo flights to the ISS with increased cargo upmass as well as future crewed missions when qualification of the vehicle is complete. This version includes conversion from analog to digital flight control systems as well as uprated engines on the first stage booster with improved injection systems.

Soyuz 2.1a has four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters with RD-107A engines providing extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. The rocket’s core stage, powered by an RD-108A engine, operates in both the first and second stages of the flight. It is 91.2 feet (27.8 meters) long and 9.68 feet (2.95 meters) in diameter. The third stage, which uses an RD-0110 engine, is 22.11 feet (6.74 meters) in length and 8.73 feet (2.66 meters) in diameter.

For this mission, the rocket will be equipped with the Volga upper stage, designed to insert the payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). This stage is 3.36-feet (1.025 m) long and measures 10 feet in diameter (3.2 m). With a mass of 1,850 lbs. (840 kg), it is fitted with a lone 17D64 engine.

Besides being the first launch from Vostochny, Tuesday’s mission will be third flight this year for the Soyuz-2.1a booster. It will also be the tenth Russian launch of 2016 (including Arianespace’s Soyuz missions from Kourou, French Guiana). The country’s next launch is currently scheduled for May 17, when a Proton-M rocket will lift off with the Intelsat 31 communications satellite, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Vostochny has been given a strategic role for the Russian space program as it is expected to reduce the country’s dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, currently on lease to Russia until 2050. This costs Russia approximately $115 million per year.

Vostochny has currently one operational launch pad. Overall, seven launch pads are planned to be built at the site.

The newly-built spaceport has lately been the point of interest for other space-faring nations, such as U.S. and China, in future joint space projects with Russia.

Video Courtesy of Телестудия Роскосмоса


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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