Friday, October 26, 2018

Russian Military Launches Soyuz 2.1b Rocket with Lotos-S1 Spy Satellite

Lotos-S1 satellite launched atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket on October 25, 2018. Photo Credit: Russian Defense Ministry.

A Soyuz 2.1b launch vehicle took to the skies on Thursday, October 25. Its mission? To deliver the third Lotos-S1 spy satellite for the Russian Aerospace Forces. The rocket thundered off Pad 4 at Site 43 of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome located in northern Russia at 3:15 a.m. Moscow time (0:15 GMT / 8:15 p.m. EDT October 24).

The launch was originally scheduled to take place on August 26, but was postponed to October 18. Russia has not disclosed what was behind this delay. The mission was rescheduled one more time – to October 25 – due to the failed launch of a Soyuz-FG rocket on October 11 that was supposed to transport crew to the International Space Station (ISS).

Preparations for the Lotos-S1 launch entered its final stages on October 22, when the Soyuz 2.1b rocket was rolled out to the pad. One day later, integrated testing of the vehicle was carried out.

According to the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry, all pre-launch preparations went flawlessly and the launch was overseen by Gen. Col. Alexander Golovko.

“The Soyuz 2.1b rocket launch was supervised by Commander of the Space Forces, Deputy Commander of the Aerospace Defense Forces Gen. Col. Alexander Golovko, who arrived to the spaceport to oversee preparations and launch of the spacecraft,” said the press service.

The Soyuz 2.1b rocket lifted off the pad after igniting its RD-107A engines and then and completing a short vertical climb. The four side-mounted boosters, accelerated the vehicle during the first phase of its flight. They were detached at around two minutes after liftoff.

After separation of the boosters, the Soyuz rocket continued its ascent by being powered by its core stage until it too was jettisoned about four-and-a-half minutes into the mission. Next, the third stage assumed control over the flight for the remaining part of the ride to orbit.

The spacecraft was deployed into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of approximately 150 by 560 miles (240 by 900 kilometers), inclined 67.15 degrees, most likely within 10 minutes after liftoff occurred. In the next few days, the satellite will correct its elevation to reside in a circular orbit at an altitude of about 560 miles (900 kilometers).

Lotos-S1 No.3 is an electronic signals intelligence (ELINT) satellite. The spacecraft is based on the Yantar bus and features two deployable solar arrays. Once in space, the satellite received the official designation Kosmos 2528.

Lotos satellites belong to Russia’s Liana program, which has the objective of modernizing the country’s signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities. The Lotos network replaces the former Tselina series of satellites that was launched between 1967 and 2007. The first prototype Lotos satellite, designated Lotos-S, was sent to orbit in November of 2009, while Lotos-S1 No.1 and No.2 were orbited in December 2014 and December 2017 respectively.

The Soyuz 2.1b rocket used for Thursday’s launch is an upgraded version of the three-stage Soyuz 2 booster. The 151-foot (46.1-meter) tall launch vehicle has a total mass of some 672,000 pounds (304,814 kilograms) and is designed to put satellites into a variety of orbits.

The booster is capable of putting up to 18,100 pounds (8,210 kilograms) into LEO, 10,800 pounds (4,899 kilograms) into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), and 7,170 pounds (3,252 kilograms) into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The first launch of this version of the rocket took place from Plesetsk on July 26, 2008, with a classified military payload.

The launch of Lotos-S1 No.3 marked the 12th orbital mission for Russia and the fourth from Plesetsk in 2018. The country’s next launch is scheduled for November 3 when a Soyuz 2.1b rocket is slated to lift off from Plesetsk carrying the GLONASS-M 757 navigation satellite.

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