Friday, April 29, 2016

Vostochny Cosmodrome Debuts with the Successful Launch of a Soyuz-2.1a Rocket

A Soyuz 2.1a rocket roars skyward on the first launch at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Roscosmos has successfully conducted the first launch from Russia’s newly built Vostochny Cosmodrome, located in the country’s Far East. A Soyuz-2.1a rocket, carrying a trio of Russian satellites, became the first vehicle to lift off from the just-opened spaceport. The booster blasted off from the cosmodrome’s Site 1S on Wednesday, April 27, at 10:01 p.m. EDT (02:01 GMT on April 28) after a 24-hour delay due to a computer-initiated abort 90 seconds from the originally planned liftoff. Roscosmos has yet to reveal what caused the initial delay.

When the booster did take to the skies, it started its standard short vertical climb. The vehicle’s four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters utilized their RD-107A engines to lift the Soyuz skyward during the initial phase of the mission. These boosters were jettisoned about two minutes after launch.

The rocket then continued its flight, being powered by its core stage alone. This stage used an RD-108A engine to accelerate the launch vehicle for nearly three minutes. Three-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the payload fairing separated, and approximately one minute and 17 seconds later, the core stage was detached from the rocket.

From that moment, the vehicle’s third stage was responsible for boosting the launch vehicle toward the designated orbit. Using an RD-0110 engine, the third stage controlled the flight for slightly more than four minutes until its separation.

The Volga upper stage assumed control over the mission at about nine minutes into the flight. Volga will continue leading the stack of satellites for several hours by firing its 17D64 engine to inject them into a targeted low-Earth orbit (LEO). After the spacecraft deployment, the upper stage will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

The mission was initially planned to be conducted in December 2015 but was postponed until April 2016 due to construction errors at Vostochny. It was reported that a rocket assembly building had incorrect dimensions and was too small to house Soyuz-2 rockets.

Due to the delays, the rocket remained in its transport containers until January 2016. Then, the integration process began with the assembly of the launch vehicle finally getting underway. Meanwhile, its payload of a trio of satellites was delivered to the spaceport.

The rocket was rolled out for the first time on March 21 to conduct a series of tests of the booster and its upper stage. Two days later, the teams carried out simulations of propellant loading aboard the rocket. After these tests and simulations, on March 30, the State Commission approved the final launch date.

The spacecraft’s electrical and mechanical interfaces were connected to the Soyuz’s Volga upper stage in mid-April. The satellites were encapsulated in the payload fairing on April 18. The second rollout of the rocket was conducted on Saturday, April 23. This saw it placed on the launch pad, where final checks were performed.

Construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, which began in 2011, has been disrupted many times by financial problems, corruption scandals, technical difficulties, and even by a workers strike. The spaceport has currently one operational launch pad – Site 1S. Overall, seven launch pads are planned to be built at the cosmodrome.

Vostochny will have a strategic role for the Russian space program as it is expected to reduce the country’s dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, currently on lease to Russia until 2050 costing the country approximately $115 million per year.

The primary passenger of Tuesday’s mission is the Lomonosov satellite (also known as MVL-300). Built by the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the spacecraft was named to honor the 300th birthday of Russian scientist Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov.

Weighing about 1,300 pounds (600 kilograms), the satellite is based on the Kanopus bus. Lomonosov features two deployable solar arrays and can generate power of up to 300 watts. It is expected to be operational for up to five years.

Lomonosov’s main instrument is the Tracking Ultraviolet Set Up (TUS) detector, which will be used for measurements of fluorescent light in the Earth’s atmosphere. Other instruments include the Block for X-ray and gamma-ray detection (BDRG); a 20 centimeter UV-optic telescope and X-ray camera to study gamma-bursts, called UFFO; two optic cameras with a super-wide field of vision, named ShOK; the Dosimeter of Electrons, PROtons and Neutrons (DEPRON); the Electron Loss and Fields Investigator for Lomonosov (ELFIN-L), and the IMISS-1 device to test the performance quality of micro-electro-mechanical inertial measuring modules in space.

The main goal of the Lomonosov satellite is to observe gamma-ray bursts, high-energy cosmic rays, and transient phenomena in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The mission also carries a Russian high-resolution ground mapping microsatellite, called Aist-2D, designed to conduct scientific experiments and test remote sensing equipment.

It will test the use of various hardware and ground stations, receiving and processing Earth observation data in the optical and radar bands, as well as technology application of online tracking for scientific experiments in space with the help of communication satellites and the Internet.

Developed by the Samara State Aerospace University (SSAU), Aist-2D weighs around 117 pounds (53 kilograms) and is fitted with solar cells and batteries. The spacecraft is expected to operate for about three years.

The smallest payload of the Soyuz-2.1a vehicle is the SamSat-218, also built by SSAU. It is a two-unit CubeSat with a mass of only 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms) and an additional empty one-unit compartment for aerodynamic stabilization. The tiny spacecraft will demonstrate attitude stabilization by using aerodynamic forces. It will develop algorithms helpful for nanosatellite orientation control.

The Soyuz 2.1a rocket that was used for Tuesday’s launch is 151 feet (46.1 meters) tall and has a diameter of 9.68 feet (2.95 meters). It can deliver payloads weighing up to 7.8 metric tons to LEO and 2.8 metric tons to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It is suitable for cargo flights to the ISS with increased cargo upmass as well as future crewed missions when qualification of the vehicle is complete. This version includes conversion from analog to digital flight control systems as well as uprated engines on the first stage booster with improved injection systems.

Soyuz 2.1a has four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters with RD-107A engines providing extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. The rocket’s core stage, powered by an RD-108A engine, operates in both the first and second stages of the flight. It is 91.2 feet (27.8 meters) long and 9.68 feet (2.95 meters) in diameter. The third stage, which uses an RD-0110 engine, is 22.11 feet (6.74 meters) in length and 8.73 feet (2.66 meters) in diameter.

For this mission, the rocket was equipped with the Volga upper stage, designed to insert a payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). This stage is 3.36-feet (1.03 meters) long and measures 10 feet (3.2 meters) in diameter. With a mass of 1,850 pounds (840 kilograms), it is fitted with a lone 17D64 engine.

Tuesday’s mission was the third flight this year for the Soyuz-2.1a booster. It also was the tenth Russian launch of 2016 (including Arianespace’s Soyuz missions from Kourou, French Guiana). The country’s next launch is currently scheduled for May 17, when a Proton-M rocket will lift off with the Intelsat 31 communications satellite, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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