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Rokot launcher blasts off with Russian Geo-IK-2 geodesy satellite

Rokot launcher lifts off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome with the Geo-IK-2 No.12 satellite on June 4.

Rokot launcher lifts off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome with the Geo-IK-2 No.12 satellite on June 4. Photo Credit: Russian Ministry of Defence

Russia successfully launched a Rokot booster on Saturday, June 4, carrying the country’s latest geodesy satellite. The spacecraft, named Geo-IK-2 No.12, lifted off at 10:00 a.m. EDT (14:00 GMT) from Site 133/3 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

Rokot launcher lifts off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome with the Geo-IK-2 No.12 satellite on June 4.

Photo Credit: Russian Ministry of Defence

The mission had alarmed environmentalists in Canada as the second stage of the launcher, loaded with toxic propellants, fell into the Baffin Bay where the country has jurisdiction over protecting the marine environment.

The launch was carried out by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN RF). Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Aleksander Golovko was in charge of the launch. Ground services of RVSN RF were supervising the liftoff and the flight of the satellite. The mission was initially planned for May, but it was postponed due to technical reasons.

The Rokot started its brief vertical ascent phase and then turned into a northwesterly direction as planned. The rocket’s first stage was jettisoned just over two minutes into the flight and splashed down into the Barents Sea.

Next, the second stage took control over the mission, firing for about three minutes until it separated from the launch vehicle and was dumped in the Baffin Bay, located within Canada’s exclusive economic zone.

According to Gary Stern, an Arctic contaminant specialist at the University of Manitoba, the hydrazine fuel used in the second stage of the Rokot booster is highly toxic and is known to persist in water. Other environmentalists recall that hydrazine has devastated the environment around the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Some have noted that dumping this toxic waste would be a violation of international and Canadian law.

However, the Russian Embassy in Ottawa insists that the Canadian government had been informed about the possible outcome of the splashdown. The embassy underlined that it would not cause any harm for the local ecosystem.

“The Canadian side was informed it would be done in a way that no territory of Canada or its territorial waters would be affected while the fuel of disposed rocket stages fully burn out,” stated Kirill Kalinin, the embassy’s press secretary.

Despite environmental concerns, the mission was carried out without any disturbances, ending in the satellite’s deployment about two hours after liftoff. The spacecraft was inserted into a circular low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), inclined 99.4 degrees.

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. It will map Earth’s gravity fields, build regional geodetic networks, as well as perform marine geoid and tide sensing. The spacecraft is designed to be operational for up to five years.

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

The Rokot used in Saturday’s launch is a 95-foot (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). The first Rokot launch was conducted from Plesetsk in May 2000.

A Briz-KM upper stage was attached to the Rokot launcher for Saturday’s launch. It is a liquid-propellant fueled stage manufactured by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center 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 was 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 a Briz-M upper stage will lift off 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.

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