Meteor-M 2-1, 18 secondary payloads lost after apparent Fregat-M failure
A Soyuz 2.1b launched with 19 satellites, including the Earth-observation satellite Meteor-M 2-1, at 2:41 p.m. local time (12:41 a.m. EST / 05:41 GMT) Nov. 28, 2017, from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. While the initial ascent appeared to go according to plan, communications with the Fregat-M upper stage and the payload was not established as planned.
Roscosmos, the Russian state corporation responsible for the country’s space program, confirmed that the first three stages of the Soyuz rocket took the payload to an intermediate parking orbit. The Soyuz 2.1b’s Fregat-M upper stage was supposed to fire seven times over the course of several hours to place the 19 satellites into four different orbits.
“However, during the first planned communications session with the [Meteor-M 2-1] satellite, it was not possible to establish a connection due to its absence in the targeted orbit,” Roscosmos stated in a press release. “Currently, the information is being analyzed.”
No other official information has been released by Roscosmos, and only one of the companies who had a satellite on board has commented – Telesat. The company’s experimental satellite was one of 18 secondary payloads on board and had a goal of testing hardware for its planned broadband constellation in low-Earth orbit.
“Telesat learned this morning that the Soyuz 2 launch vehicle that was to place 19 spacecraft into orbit, including Telesat’s first Phase 1 LEO satellite, has failed,” the company said in a press release.
Telesat said that, despite the failure, its plans to develop a high-capacity LEO constellation that will deliver low-latency broadband remains on track.
“A second Phase 1 LEO satellite is scheduled for launch in the coming weeks on ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Sriharikota launch site,” Telesat said.
ISRO is the Indian Space Research Organisation. The PSLV is the county’s workhorse rocket, which is itself overcoming a recent launch failure. Its return to flight is currently scheduled for no-earlier-than late-December 2017.
On Nov. 29, the Russian news agency Tass reported that the satellites may have been lost due to a failure in the GLONASS equipment on board the rocket. GLONASS is Russia’s alternative to the U.S.-based GPS system.
“According to preliminary findings, there occurred a technical flaw in the booster’s satellite navigation equipment, which operates on the basis of GLONASS and GPS signals and enhances the Fregat’s accuracy in putting space satellites into the designated orbits,” a source told Tass.
The source told Tass that this resulted in the Fregat-M not being oriented properly, and it ultimately re-entered the atmosphere and what remained splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.
However, Tass did mention a source told it that neither Russia nor anybody else has reported anything like falling debris.
“With a high degree of probability it may be assumed that it either fell into the Atlantic or, which is less likely, entered the wrong orbit,” Tass said.
Video courtesy of Roscosmos
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.