Russia has successfully launched on Saturday, June 4, a Rokot booster carrying the country’s latest geodesy satellite. The spacecraft, named Geo-IK-2 No.12 lifted off at 10:00 a.m. EDT (14:00 GMT) from the Site 133/3 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The mission has alarmed environmentalists in Canada as the second stage of the launcher, loaded with toxic propellants, has fallen into the Baffin Bay where the country has jurisdiction over protecting the marine environment.
The launch was carried out by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN RF). Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Aleksander Golovko was in charge of the launch. Ground services of RVSN RF were supervising the liftoff and the flight of the satellite. The mission was initially planned for May, but was postponed due to technical reasons.
Rokot started its brief vertical ascent phase as planned and shortly after it turned into northwest direction. The rocket’s first stage was jettisoned slightly over two minutes into the flight and splashed down into the Barents Sea. Next, the second stage took control over the mission, firing for about three minutes until it separated from the launch vehicle and was dumped in the Baffin Bay, located within Canada’s exclusive economic zone. The splashdown had Canadian environmentalists worried about the possible contamination of the Arctic waters.
According to Gary Stern, an Arctic contaminant specialist at the University of Manitoba, the hydrazine fuel used in the second stage of the Rokot booster is highly toxic and is known to persist in water. Other environmentalists recall that hydrazine has devastated the environment around the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and some of them note that dumping this toxic waste would be a violation of international and Canadian law.
However, the Russian Embassy in Ottawa insists that the Canadian government had been informed about the possible outcome of the splashdown. The embassy underlined that it would not cause any harm for the local ecosystem.
"The Canadian side was informed it would be done in a way that no territory of Canada or its territorial waters would be affected while the fuel of disposed rocket stages fully burn out," stated the embassy's press secretary Kirill Kalinin.
Despite environmental concerns, the mission was carried out without any disturbances, ending in the satellite’s deployment about two hours after liftoff. The spacecraft was inserted into a circular low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), inclined 99.4 degrees.
Geo-IK-2 No.12, was built by Russia’s ISS Reshetnev company. It weighs around 1.4 metric tons and is based on the 3-axis stabilized Uragan-M bus. It features two deployable solar arrays and is equipped with a radar altimeter, laser retroreflectors, and a GLONASS/GPS receiver. The satellite is expected to begin the formation of Russia’s next-generation space-based geodetic system. It will map Earth’s gravity fields, build regional geodetic networks, as well as perform marine geoid and tide sensing. The spacecraft is designed to be operational for up to five years.
The previous Geo-IK-2 satellite (No.11) was launched from Plesetsk in February 2011 on a Rokot booster with a Briz-KM upper stage. However, the mission was unsuccessful as the satellite was placed into a lower orbit than had been planned. It was intended to operate in a circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), but it remained in an elliptical transfer orbit of 198.2 by 654.3 miles (319 km × 1,053 km) after the Briz-KM failed to fire its scheduled second burn. The spacecraft was declared lost in June 2011 and re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in July 2013.
The Rokot launch vehicle that was used in Saturday’s launch is a 95-feet (29-meter) tall liquid-fueled three-stage rocket manufactured by Eurockot Launch Services. It is a derivative of the UR-100N (SS-19 Stiletto) intercontinental ballistic missile. With a total mass of 107 metric tons, the booster is capable of delivering up to two metric tons into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 1.2 metric tons to SSO. First Rokot launch was conducted from Plesetsk in May 2000.
A Briz-KM upper stage was attached to the Rokot launcher for Saturday’s launch. It is a liquid-propellant fueled stage manufactured by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, designed to boost payloads into orbit. It is composed of a central core and an auxiliary propellant tank that is jettisoned in flight following the depletion of the stage’s propellant.
Briz-KM is 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) long and 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) in diameter. With a mass of about 6.5 metric tons, this stage uses one S5.98M engine burning for up to 50 minutes in order to deliver a payload into orbit.
The Briz-KM control system includes an onboard computer, a three-axis gyro stabilized platform, and a navigation system. The quantity of propellant carried is dependent on specific mission requirements and is varied to maximize mission performance.
Saturday’s launch was the second Rokot flight this year and the fifth orbital liftoff conducted from Plesetsk in 2016. Russia’s next launch is planned for June 8 when a Proton-M rocket with Briz-M upper stage will lift off from Baikonur carrying the Intelsat 31 communications satellite.