Monday, April 25, 2016

Russia’s Vostochny Spaceport Ready for Its Debut with the Launch of a Soyuz-2.1a Rocket

Soyuz-2.1a rocket at the Vostochny launch pad. Credit: Roscosmos

Troubled by numerous setbacks and delays, Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome is finally ready and all set for its debut this week. The spaceport, located in the Amur Region in the Russian Far East will inaugurate its operations with the launch of a Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrying a trio of satellites. Liftoff is currently scheduled for Tuesday, Apr. 26 at 10:01 p.m. EDT (2:01 GMT on Apr. 27) from the Cosmodrome’s Site 1S.

The construction of Vostochny has been disrupted many times by financial problems, corruption scandals, technical difficulties and even by a workers strike. Now, the authorities believe that the spaceport tackled all the obstacles and is finally ready to start its operational life.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket that will be launched on Tuesday, is currently standing tall at the launch site and is ready for final checks before its blastoff. The spaceport was planned to ready to launch its maiden mission in December 2015, but was postponed to April 2016, due to construction errors. It was reported that a rocket assembly building had incorrect dimensions and was too small to house Soyuz-2 rockets.

Arriving at Vostochny in September 2015, the rocket, due to the delays, remained in its transport containers until January 2016. Then, the integration process began to assemble the launch vehicle. Meanwhile, a trio of the satellites was delivered to the spaceport.

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

In mid-April, the spacecraft electrical and mechanical interfaces were connected to the Soyuz’s upper Volga upper stage. The satellites were encapsulated in the payload fairing on Apr. 18.

The second rollout of the rocket was conducted on Saturday, Apr. 23, to place it at the launch pad, when final checks will be performed. The vehicle is now erected at the launch site, awaiting liftoff.

The mission’s main passenger 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 lbs. (600 kg), the satellite is based on the Kanopus bus. Lomonosov features two deployable fixed solar arrays and could generate power of up to 300 W. It is expected to be operational for up to five years.

Lomonosov’s main instrument is the Tracking Ultraviolet Set Up (TUS) detector will be used for measurements of fluorescence light in the Earth’s atmosphere. Other instruments include the Block for X-ray and gamma-radiation detection (BDRG); a 20 cm UV-optic telescope and X-ray camera to study gamma-bursts, called UFFO; two optic cameras of 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 microelectromechanical 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.

Soyuz-2.1a rocket will also launch a Russian high-resolution ground mapping microsatellite, called Aist-2D, designed to conduct scientific experiments and testing remote sensing equipment. It will test the usage of various hardware and ground station, receiving and processing Earth observation data in optical and radar bands as well as technology application of online tracking for scientific experiments in space with the help of communication satellites and internet.

Developed by the Samara State Aerospace University (SSAU), Aist-2D weighs around 117 lbs. (53 kg) and is fitted with solar cells and batteries. The spacecraft will 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 lbs. (4 kg) and an additional empty one-unit compartment for aerodynamic stabilization. The tiny spacecraft will demonstrate attitude stabilization by use the aerodynamic forces. It will develop algorithms helpful for nanosatellites orientation control.

The trio of satellites will be launched into a low-Earth orbit (LEO).

The Soyuz 2.1a rocket that will be used in 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 of up to metric 7.8 tons to LEO and 2.8 metric tons to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It is suitable for cargo flights to 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 and 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, acts as both first and second stage. It is 91.2 feet (27.8 meters) long and 9.68 feet (2.95 meters) in diameter. The third stage, with an RD-0110 engine, is 22.11 feet (6.74 meters) in length and 8.73 feet (2.66 meters) in diameter.

For the mission, the rocket will be equipped with the Volga upper stage, designed to insert payload into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). This stage is 3.36-feet (1.025 m) long and has 10 feet in diameter (3.2 m). With a mass of 1,850 lbs. (840 kg), it is fitted with one 17D64 engine.

Besides being the first launch from Vostochny, Tuesday’s mission will be third orbital flight this year for the Soyuz-2.1a booster. It will be the tenth Russian launch in 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 liftoff with the Intelsat 31 communications satellite, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. 

Vostochny has 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, for approximately $115 million per year.

Vostochny has currently one operational launch pad. Overall, seven launch pads are planned to be built at the site.

The newly-built spaceport has been lately the point of interest for other space faring nations like U.S. and China, interest in future joint space project with Russia.

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