Update: Soyuz delivers EgyptSat-A into orbit, despite potential issue
A Russian Soyuz rocket delivered a reconnaissance satellite into orbit, but a potential issue during the launch may have prompted the fourth stage to perform extra work.
EgyptSat-A was launched atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket at 11:47 a.m. EST (16:47 GMT) from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, and was placed in a polar orbit.
The satellite was built by Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences in cooperation with RKK Energia, according to Gunter’s Space Page. It features two electric engines that use xenon and has three deployable solar arrays.
Following liftoff, the vehicle pitched over and headed north toward its designated orbit. About two minutes into flight, the Soyuz rocket’s four liquid-fueled strap on boosters separated and fell away in a formation known as the Korolev Cross.
As the core stage continued to power the vehicle toward orbit, the payload fairing separated, exposing the reconnaissance satellite to the vacuum of space. Once the core stage finished burning some five minutes into flight, it separated from the third stage (the boosters are considered the first stage while the core is considered the second stage) and continued for another four minutes.
A fourth stage called Fregat, separated soon after orbital insertion and fired its engine to place EgyptSat-A into a transfer orbit. Following a coast phase of about 45 minutes, it was expected to circularize its orbit.
However, according to NASASpaceflight there were reports that this didn’t go according to plan and Russian media began reporting shortly after liftoff that the Fregat was tracking in a lower-than-planned orbit. If this was the case, that could mean a problem occurred during either the third stage or the first burn of the fourth stage.
It is unclear if there really was a problem, but Roscosmos tweeted at the conclusion of powered flight that the mission was a success and EgyptSat-A was deployed “in strict accordance” with the flight plan.
Today’s flight was the first Russian launch of 2019. The next Soyuz rocket flight is planned for Feb. 26 at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana in South America. It will see six satellites deployed on behalf of OneWeb.
Update, Feb. 21, 2019: Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel tweeted that the Soyuz to be used for the OneWeb mission was postponed after “non-nominal third-stage behavior.” He said a new launch date will be announced as soon as possible.
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.