Russia launched on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, a Soyuz-2.1v rocket with two defense satellites. The liftoff took place at 10:09 a.m. EDT (14:09 GMT) from the site LC-43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, located in the Russian north-western Arkhangelsk region. The mission was declared successful shortly after the launch, but the latest media reports indicate that one of the satellites did not separate from the rocket’s upper stage and may be sunk.
The Soyuz-2.1v rocket was tasked with delivering into orbit the Kanopus-ST satellite and the KYuA-1 spacecraft as the secondary payload. The Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN RF), responsible for the launch operations during this mission, haven’t yet specified which satellite is the lost one.
"One of the space apparatuses of the military designation is experiencing issues. According to the preliminary data, it did not separate from the Volga upper stage. At the moment, there are discussions taking place on the removal from orbit and subsequent sinking of the Volga upper stage and the satellite in the interests of the Russian Defense Ministry," a source in the space industry told RIA Novosti.
The launch was initially planned for the second quarter of 2015 and was postponed several times. Finally the date was set to Dec. 9, but the authorities decided to begin the mission five days earlier on Dec. 4. However, some problem with the payload delayed the liftoff one day.
After the lift off, the rocket started a short vertical ascent. Then it turned north, heading to a high-inclination orbit. The first stage of the launch vehicle separated about two minutes into the flight. The second stage flew for nearly four and a half minutes until its separation occurred. Next, the upper stage continued its flight to deploy the duo of satellites into a planned sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The Kanopus-ST and the KYuA-1 spacecraft were supposed to be inserted into SSO several hours later, receiving official designation Kosmos 2511 and 2512 respectively.
Unluckily, the Russian sources say that one of the satellites experienced an anomaly and wasn’t delivered into SSO at a planned altitude of 416 miles (670 km) by 515 miles (830 km), inclined 98.7 degrees.
Kanopus-ST, built by the Russian Production Association Polyot company, is a small remote sensing satellite designed for ocean and weather research. However, Western analysts believe that the secrecy surrounding the mission indicates that it will serve military purposes.
Kanopus-ST weighs about 771 lbs. (350 kg) and reaches up to 14.4 feet (4.39 meters) when its solar panel is deployed. It features a BIK-GYa-1 microwave radiometer weighing approximately 352 lbs. (160 kg), able to cover a 1.36-mile (2.2 km) wide swath on the ground with a resolution of 7.45 miles (12 km) to up to 100 miles (160 km). It is also equipped with a KMVD-E multispectral camera with a swath of 621 miles (1,000 km) and a spatial resolution of 98-164 feet (30-50 m).
The first Kanopus satellite was launched in July 2012. The next satellite in the series, Kanopus-V-IK 1, will be launched in 2016.
Little is known about the KYuA-1 spacecraft. According to the information released by the Russian media, it is a radar calibration sphere, with a mass of approximately 35 lbs. (16 kg). It is designed for the calibration of ground-based radars and to improve orbit determination.
The two-stage Soyuz-2.1v rocket, built by TsSKB Progress in Samara, Russia, that was employed in Saturday’s launch is an upgraded version of a Soyuz-2 booster. The 144 feet (44 meters) tall launch vehicle with a total mass of 348,000 lbs. (158,000 kg) is designed to put satellites into a variety of orbits. The Soyuz-2.1v is capable of putting up to 6,280 lbs. (2,850 kg) into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 3,140 lbs. (1,400 kg) to SSO. The first launch of this version took place from Plesetsk on Dec. 28, 2013, with the Aist 1 microsatellite and a pair of SKRL-756 calibration spheres.
Unlike the Soyuz-2.1b, this version replaces the four-chamber RD-117 engine with an NK-33 single-chamber engine. The second stage of the Soyuz-2-1v is the same as the third stage of the Soyuz-2.1b, powered by an RD-0124 engine.
For Saturday’s mission, the Soyuz-2.1v rocket was used in a configuration with a Volga upper stage, also built by TsSKB Progress. Volga is a small stage that is 10.17 feet (3.1 meters) in diameter and 3.38 feet (1.03 meters) long with a mass of 1,962 lbs. (890 kg). It is equipped with a single main engine. Vehicle control is provided by an attitude control system consisting of a number of thrusters installed on this stage.
Volga is re-startable and can support a large number of burns. It is derived from the propulsion system of the Yantar reconnaissance satellite, and was developed as a lighter and cheaper alternative to the Fregat upper stage.
Yesterday’s flight was the second orbital mission for the Soyuz-2.1v booster. It was the sixth liftoff from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome this year and the 22nd orbital launch for Russia in 2015 (more than any other country).
Russia is planning six more launches until the end of year. Next mission is scheduled for Dec. 10, when a Proton-M rocket will send the Garpun communications satellite into orbit. The liftoff will take place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kakazkhstan.