Friday, June 3, 2016

Russia to Launch a Geodesy Satellite on Saturday Amid Protests in Canada

Artist's rendering of the Geo-IK-2 satellite. Image Credit: ISS Reshetnev

Russia is gearing up to launch its newest Geo-IK-2 geodesy satellite atop a Rokot booster on Saturday amid strong voices of concern in Canada. The mission raised worries among Canadian environmentalists due to the fact that the second stage of the launch vehicle filled with toxic fuel, is slated to splashdown into Baffin Bay - within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The Rokot launcher is scheduled to be lifted off at 10:00 a.m. EDT (14:00 GMT) from the Site 133/3 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. It will deliver the Geo-IK-2 spacecraft into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), inclined 99.4 degrees, from which it will map Earth’s gravity fields, build regional geodetic networks, as well as perform marine geoid and tide sensing.

The satellite, designated 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 in a radar altimeter, laser retro reflectors and a GLONASS/GPS receiver. The satellite is expected to begin the formation of Russia’s next-generation space-based geodetic system.

Previous Geo-IK-2 satellite (No.11) was launched from Plesetsk in February 2011 a Rokot launcher with Briz-KM upper stage. However, the mission was unsuccessful as the satellite was placed into a lower than orbit than planned. It was intended to operate in a circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), but only reached 200 by 654 miles (319 by 1053 kilometers). The spacecraft was declared lost in June 2011 and reentered the Earth’s atmosphere in July 2013.

Geo-IK-2 No. 12 was shipped to Plesetsk on Mar. 31, aboard an IL-76 aircraft. The satellite underwent necessary pre-launch preparations at the cosmodrome to be ready for liftoff in May, however due to technical reasons, the start of the mission was postponed to June 4.

Rokot launch vehicle that will be used in Saturday’s launch is a 95-feet tall (29 meters) 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.

Rokot uses hydrazine as fuel, which is known to be extremely toxic. The rocket’s second stage will fall over a remote stretch of water between Greenland and the southern tip of Ellesmere Island, where the country has jurisdiction over protecting the marine environment. Canadian environmentalists fear that splashing down the rocket’s debris laden with toxic propellant will bring a devastating outcome for the local ecosystem.

“The idea of dropping a missile full of toxic chemicals in the Arctic waters off Baffin Island is just as preposterous as drilling for oil there,” said Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Alex Speers-Roesch.

He also noted that dumping this toxic waste would be a violation of international and Canadian law.

Michael Byers, a professor of international law and an Arctic expert at the University of British Columbia, recalled that hydrazine has devastated the environment around the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He added that Canada should be pushing for a global ban on the use of hydrazine as a rocket propellant.

Despite the protests regarding the upcoming launch, the final preparations for the start of the mission are in full swing. Russia’s ambassador to Canada as well the Canadian government hasn’t yet made a statement about the criticism and the mission schedule seems to be unthreatened.

For Saturday’s launch, Rokot will be used in a configuration with a Briz-KM upper stage. 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 up to 50 minutes in order to deliver 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 will be 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.

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