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Soyuz-2.1a launches from Vostochny with 11 satellites

Soyuz-2.1a launches from Vostochny Cosmodrome on February 1.

Soyuz-2.1a launches from Vostochny Cosmodrome on February 1. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Russia conducted its first orbital mission of 2018 on Thursday, February 1, by launching a Soyuz-2.1a rocket with 11 satellites into space. The mission got underway under mostly clear skies and carried payloads from Germany as well as the U.S.

The rocket lifted off at 2:07 GMT (9:07 p.m. EST) from Site 1S at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, which is located in Russia’s Far East.

The launch had been initially scheduled for Dec. 22, 2017, however Roscosmos decided to postpone the flight until Feb. of 2018. The decision was made after the Nov. 28 failure of a Soyuz-2.1b rocket, when its Fregat-M upper stage suffered from a programming error and the flight resulted in the loss of all 19 satellites on board.

The postponement of the Soyuz-2.1a launch from Vostochny enabled mission controllers to perform additional checks of the software to make sure that everything performed as advertised with this flight.

Given that the launch was originally planned to take place on Dec. 22, the rocket was shipped to the launch site on Sept. 10. The primary payload of the mission, the Kanopus V No. 3 and No. 4 satellites – were delivered to Vostochny one month later.

The rocket and the 11 satellites were then given the green light to be sent aloft on Jan. 23 and three days later the engineers completed the integration of the launch vehicle with its payload. The roll out of the rocket to the launch pad was carried out on Jan. 29.

Igniting its four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters, the Soyuz-2.1a rocket thundered off the pad and soared skyward, starting a short vertical ascent. The boosters were jettisoned about two minutes after the rocket had left the launch pad.

The Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle continued the flight powered by its core stage alone. This stage used an RD-108A engine to accelerate the rocket for nearly three minutes. Three minutes and 48 seconds into the flight, the payload fairing separated, and almost one minute later the core stage was detached from the rocket (these discarded segments were then left to fall back to Earth).

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket arcs its way into space. Photo Credit: Donat Sorokin / TASS

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket arcs its way into space. Photo Credit: Donat Sorokin / TASS

Afterward, the second stage took control over the flight for the next four minutes and was separated nearly nine minutes after the full stack had taken off from Vostochny. The separation marked the beginning of the longest phase of the mission – a five-hour long trek of the Fregat-M upper stage to orbit (and back to Earth for its fiery re-entry into the atmosphere).

The Fregat-M first released the duo of Kanopus-V satellites at about one hour into the flight. Then, approximately one and a half hour later, it started the deployment of its secondary payload consisting of nine smaller satellites. Next, the upper stage conducted a pair of maneuvers to lower its orbit in order to perform a fiery atmospheric re-entry over the Pacific Ocean some five and a half hours into the flight.

“Nine spacecraft from Germany and the United States have been separated [from the Fregat booster]. They have been delivered to the calculated orbits. The customers will start working with them in a while. Over the next 24 hours we will receive information on the spacecraft’ condition and how they work, but this is already the customers’ responsibility,” said Igor Komarov, head of Roscosmos.

Manufactured by the All-Russia Research Institute of Electromechanics (NPP VNIIEM), Kanopus V No. 3 and No. 4 are Earth-imaging satellites that are slated to be operated by Roscosmos. Each spacecraft weighs around 1,042 lbs. (473 kilograms) and is fitted with two deployable solar arrays and three imaging instruments. The satellites will operate from a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 317 miles (510 kilometers) for a planned five year period.

Kanopus satellites are designed to be used mainly for environmental monitoring, mapping, man-made and natural disaster detection and management, agricultural monitoring and fire detection. They are also designed to provide wide-angle images to compliment the constellation of high-resolution Resurs satellites.

Besides the Russian Kanopus satellites, Thursday’s mission also saw five spacecraft launched on behalf of Germany: four S-NET nanosatellites and one D-Star ONE v 1.1 Phoenix CubeSat.

Developed and operated by the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin), S-NET are nanosatellites cubical in shape, with a side length of some 9.45 inches (24 centimeters) and a mass of 18.7 lbs. (8.5 kilograms). Their designed lifetime is one year.

S-NET satellites are technology demonstrators to test a new type of S-Band inter-satellite and space-to-ground communications system. The spacecraft carry the SLink instrument – a compact transceiver system for S band communication links of small satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) environment.

D-Star ONE v 1.1 Phoenix is a three-unit CubeSat built by German Orbital Systems, the spacecraft is a copy of the original D-Star ONE that was lost on November 28. It weighs around 8.8 lbs. (4 kilograms) and is designed to be operational for one year.

“We called this project Phoenix because since ancient times the phoenix has been a symbol of rebirth and renewal. On November 28, 2017 our satellite burned in the dense layers of the atmosphere, so that in 44 days it could rise from the ashes!” reads the official website of the D-Star ONE project.

D-Star ONE v 1.1 Phoenix is a technology demonstrator which was flown for German Orbital Systems’ planned CubeSat communications constellation. The satellite is equipped with four identical radio modules with D-Star capabilities.

Also on the mission manifest for this flight were four Lemur-2 small satellites designated Lemur-2 No. 74-77. Built and operated by American company Spire Global, these three-unit CubeSats designed for meteorology and ship traffic tracking. They weigh 8.8 lbs. (4 kilograms) each and are equipped with a GPS radio occultation payload known as STRATOS and an Automated Identification System (AIS) payload named SENSE.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket employed for Thursday’s launch stands some 151 feet (46.1 meters) tall and has a diameter of 9.68 feet (2.95 meters). It can deliver payloads of up to 8.6 tons (7.8 metric tons) to a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 3.1 tons (2.8 metric tons) to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Thursday’s flight was Russia’s first orbital mission this year (2018) and the third launch from Vostochny to date. The country’s next launch is scheduled for Feb. 11, when again a Soyuz-2.1a booster will take to the skies from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to ferry the Progress MS-08 cargo spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station (ISS).

Video courtesy of Space Videos / Roscosmos




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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