Friday, December 11, 2015

Zenit-2SB Rocket Launches Russian Elektro-L Weather Satellite

Zenit-2SB rocket launches Elektro-L No. 2 satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 11, 2015. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

The Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-2SB carrier rocket, also known as Zenit-3F or Zenit-3SLBF, has successfully launched on Friday, Dec. 11, the Elektro-L No. 2 weather satellite for Russia. The liftoff occurred at 9:45 a.m. EDT (13:45 GMT) from the Site 45 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Despite the fact that two more Zenit launches are currently scheduled, the Friday’s liftoff could be the last for this booster. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine cast doubt on the process of manufacturing new vehicles. The last Zenit rocket made by the moment is currently at the Baikonur space center and is set to be launched in 2017. One more launcher is under construction.

After the liftoff, the rocket started a short vertical ascent and then began to fly in the north-east direction. About two minutes and 23 seconds into the flight, the first stage separated from the launch vehicle. Three minutes later, the protective payload fairing was jettisoned, releasing the spacecraft and the Fregat-SB upper stage. 

"The upper stage comprising the booster and the spacecraft separated from the carrier rocket’s second stage," a Roscosmos spokesman said.

The satellite separated from the Zenit booster approximately nine hours after the launch and was inserted into a geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) of 22,012 by 22,240 miles (35,425 by 35,793 kilometers), inclined 0.5 degrees. The spacecraft’s solar array and antenna were deployed few minutes later.

Built by the Russian aerospace company NPO Lavochkin, Elektro-L No. 2 is a weather satellite of the second generation. It is designed to provide meteorological services for a regional and global weather forecast, as well as a climate change monitoring. It will observe the Earth as a disc, from a static position relative to the planet’s surface.

The Elektro-L No. 2 satellite is based on NPO Lavochkin’s Navigator bus. The spacecraft weighs about 1.8 tons and is expected to be operational for 10 years. Navigator can be used for remote sensing, communications and science missions operating anywhere between sun synchronous (SSO) and geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) as well as the Lagrange points.

The satellite is equipped in four instruments with a total mass of 959 lbs. (435 kg). These instruments will enable the spacecraft to conduct visible, infrared and microwave imaging, ocean monitoring and space weather measurements. The primary tool is the MSU-GS (Multispectral Scanner – Geostationary), a ten-channel radiometer covering the visible and near infrared spectral range, the thermal infrared and the microwave band. Data from this instrument will be used for cloud cover assessments, water vapor measurements, and sea surface temperature measurements.

The spacecraft features an Onboard Radio Engineering Complex that handles all satellite communications like data transmission from the instruments, telemetry downlink and command uplink, and the collection of data from search and rescue terminals and data collection platforms. It also includes receivers for the SARSAT-COSPAS emergency call system.

The satellite employs also onboard processing to be able to deliver low- and high-rate data transmissions at the S-band frequency for direct reception by customers.

Elektro-L No.2 is the second Elektro-L weather satellite to be launched by Russia. The first one was launched on Jan. 20, 2011. It was also the first launch of the Zenit-2SB rocket. It took place 17 years after the first generation of Elektro satellites was inaugurated.

The Zenit-2SB rocket used for the Friday’s launch was designed by the Yuzhnoye Design Office of Ukraine. The 196 feet (59.6 m) tall booster is 13 feet (3.9 m) in diameter. The rocket has a total mass of 471 tons and is capable of delivering up to 4 metric tons into GTO. The first stage of this launch vehicle uses one RD-171 engine while the second stage features one RD-120 and one RD-8 engine.

For the Elektro-L No.2 mission, the Zenit rocket was used in the configuration with the Fregat-SB upper stage. This stage uses one S5.92 engine and is 4 feet and 11 inches (1.5 m) long, with a diameter of 11 feet (3.35 m). The SB version is a variation of Fregat-M with a block of drop-off tanks, which makes increased payload capability possible.

Zenit rocket series evolved from a program, started in the Soviet Union in the 1970s to develop a new fleet of rockets to replace the older boosters then in service, including the Soyuz and Proton which remain in service today. Zenits vehicles were lately often used by the Sea Launch consortium, formed between Boeing, RKK Energia, Yuzhnoye, Yuzhmash and Kvaerner Maritime of Norway. The missions were conducted from the Odyssey launch platform, a converted oil rig based out of Long Beach, California.

Friday’s mission was the first Zenit launch in the last eighteen months, the 83rd Zenit flight overall and the 13th liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 2015. It was also the 23rd Russian orbital mission this year and Russia still occupies the first place in the number of space launches for 2015.

Russia is planning five more launches before the end of the year. The next mission is scheduled for Dec. 13 when a Proton-M rocket will send the Garpun communications satellite into orbit. The liftoff will take place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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