Spaceflight Insider

Russia successfully launches third Resurs-P Earth-observing satellite on second attempt

Soyuz-2.1b Resurs-P No.3 launch

Soyuz-2.1b launch of Resurs-P No.3 satellite. Image Credit: Roscosmos TV

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket carrying the Russian Resurs-P No.3 Earth observation satellite thundered into the sky on Sunday, March 13, from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff occurred at 2:56 p.m. EDT (18:56 GMT). It was the second attempt to launch the satellite.

The launch was initially scheduled for late 2015 but did not take place until March 13, 2016. The first attempt to launch it took place yesterday at 1:56 p.m. EST (18:56 GMT), but the booster suffered a rare on-pad abort just about ten seconds prior to launch.

The launch window was only ten seconds in length, this meant that any hold or abort would result in an immediate scrub for the day. The cause of the March 12 abort is currently being investigated.

“The automatic engine cutoff occurred during the lift-off of the Soyuz 2-1B carrier rocket with the Resurs-P No.3 remote-sensing satellite. The launch has been cancelled, the causes are being investigated,” a source at Roscosmos told RIA Novosti.

The Soyuz-2.1b has a 20-second ignition sequence leading up to liftoff. A pad abort during ignition is very rare for Russian rockets. This was the first on-pad abort for the Soyuz-2.1b and the first for any Soyuz rocket in more than a decade.

The launch campaign started in December of 2015 with the arrival of the satellite at Baikonur. A series of tests and inspections were performed at the Baikonur Processing Facility to prepare the spacecraft for the mission.

Fueling of the satellite was carried out in early March before its solar arrays were attached. Then the spacecraft was encapsulated in the rocket’s payload fairing. The Soyuz launch vehicle was assembled on March 9, and the payload fairing with the satellite was installed atop of it. The following day, the rocket was rolled out to the launch site.

After liftoff, the Soyuz-2.1b rocket started its short 9-minute mission, climbing vertically and quickly executing a pitch and roll maneuver, targeting a polar orbit inclined 97.3 degrees. Nearly two minutes into the flight, the rocket’s boosters were jettisoned and the launch vehicle continued its mission powered by its core stage. The separation of the core stage occurred about four minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff, leaving the third stage with the payload fairing alone. The third stage flew for about four-and-a-half minutes releasing the Resurs-P satellite approximately nine minutes and 20 seconds into the flight.

Resurs-P No.3 satellite.

Resurs-P No.3 satellite. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

The satellite has already deployed its solar arrays and established communications with Russian ground stations. It will use its propulsion system to reach its targeted Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 297 miles (477.5 kilometers).

The Resurs-P No.3 – developed by the Progress State Research and Production Space Centre (also known as TsSKB-Progress) in Samara, Russia – is an Earth observation satellite for the Russian Resurs observation and remote sensing program. Weighing about 6.4 metric tons, the spacecraft is based on the Yantar-4KS1 bus and is three-axis stabilized. It is 26 feet (7.9 meters) long, 8.9 feet (2.7 meters) in diameter and is expected to be operational for up to seven years.

The satellite consists of three sections: a payload section containing the imaging systems: a service section consisting of avionics, electrical systems, and other support equipment: and a propulsion section that facilitates the main propulsion system and the high-fidelity attitude control system. The spacecraft’s design is modular, it includes the assembly compartment with the power package module and two photovoltaic solar arrays mounted on the compartment’s outer surface, the instrumentation bay, and the purpose equipment bay.

The spacecraft is expected to update maps, aid the work of Russia’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Emergency Ministry, and the agricultural, fishery and hydro-meteorological agencies.

Resurs-P No.3 carries the Geoton-L1 hyperspectral imaging payload as the main imaging instrument. Thanks to this payload it possesses hyperspectral and stereo spectral image recording capabilities with an accuracy of 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters). Its main objective is to obtain high-resolution imagery of the Earth’s surface for commercial and research applications. It is able to provide global coverage in 60 days, in daylight and locally even more frequently by strategic positioning. The instrument has a mass of 683 lbs. (310 kg) and was designed jointly by NPO Opteks and CNII Electron.

The Resurs program began in 1979 with the launch of the first satellite. These reconnaissance satellites, designed for ecological studies and natural resource analysis, have operated for more than 40 years. The first Resurs-P satellite was launched in June of 2013, with the second being orbited in December 2014. Russian plans two more launches of satellites in the Resurs-P series, currently scheduled for 2018–2019.

The Soyuz-2.1b rocket, which was used in Sunday’s launch, is an upgraded version of a three-stage carrier Soyuz-2 booster. The 151 feet (46.1 meters) tall launch vehicle has a total mass of 672,000 lbs. (304,814 kg) and is designed to put satellites into a variety of orbits. The Soyuz-2.1b is capable of hoisting up to 18,100 lbs. (8,210 kg) into a low-Earth orbit (LEO), 10,800 lbs. (4,899 kg) into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), and 7,170 lbs. (3,252 kg) into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The first launch of this version took place from the Plesetsk Cosmodrone on July 26, 2008, with a classified military payload.

The Soyuz-2.1b uses four RD-107A engines during the first phase of flight, these burn for about 2 minutes. The first stage, measures some 88.9 feet (27.1 meters) in length and 9.7 feet (2.95 meters) in diameter. It is also equipped with a single RD-108A engine. The rocket’s second stage has a length of approximately 22 feet (6.7 meters) and measures about 8.7 feet (2.66 meters) in diameter. The 2.1b version of the booster has an upgraded RD-0124 rocket engine which provides improved performance to the second stage.

Russia has already launched four missions in 2016 so far. The nation plans at least 13 more flights by the end of the year. Sunday’s launch was the second flight for the Soyuz-2.1b booster this year as well as the second mission from Baikonur in 2016. The country’s next launch is planned for March 14 when a Proton-M rocket is scheduled to send the first half of the ExoMars mission on its way to the Red Planet.

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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