Sunday, February 24, 2019

Soyuz-2.1b Launches EgyptSat-A into Space, Satellite Reaches Orbit Despite Technical Problems

Soyuz-2.1b launch on February 21, 2019. Credit:

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket, with the help of a Fregat upper stage, delivered an Egyptian Earth observation satellite into a polar orbit at an altitude of more than 400 miles (650 kilometers) Thursday, overcoming an apparent technical problem after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to Russian news reports.

The Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifted off from pad 31 at Baikonur at 1647 GMT (11:47 a.m. EST; 9:47 p.m. local time) with EgyptSat-A, a remote sensing satellite built by Russia’s RSC Energia aerospace manufacturer to provide the Egyptian military and other government agencies with high-resolution surveillance imagery.

Energia and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed the Soyuz-2.1b rocket and its Fregat upper stage delivered the EgyptSat-A spacecraft into the planned orbit. U.S. military tracking data indicated the mission deployed the satellite into an orbit more than 400 miles above Earth, at an inclination of 98 degrees to the equator.

But Russian news reports suggested the mission may have experienced a close call during the climb into orbit.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported the EgyptSat-A satellite and its Fregat upper stage were tracked in a lower-than-expected orbit after the three-stage Soyuz booster deployed the rocket’s upper unit around nine minutes after liftoff.

But TASS reported that burns by the Fregat upper stage appeared to have corrected the apparent performance shortfall, which may have occurred during the third stage’s engine firing. The Fregat upper stage was expected to ignite twice to deliver EgyptSat-A to its intended orbit.

The RIA Novosti news agency also reported the launcher was observed in a lower-than-planned during Thursday’s flight, attributing the information to two space industry sources.

In the end, Russian officials said EgyptSat-A was released at the expected altitude, and the solar panels on the satellite unfurled as designed.

"Everything is going to plan, telemetrics is coming from the satellite, it is on target orbit," Roscosmos said.

The satellite is designed for high spatial resolution imaging of the Earth.

"After completing the flight test program, control of the satellite will be handed over to Egypt," Roscosmos said.

The EgyptSat-A launch, initially slated for February 7, was re-scheduled for February 21. The satellite should replace another Russian-made satellite, EgyptSat-2, contact with which was lost in April 2015. The satellite was insured by Sputnik insurance company whose license was revoked in 2016.

The new satellite was created by RSC Energia with the insurance money paid for its lost predecessor. The EgyptSat-A cost about $100 million to create.

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