Russian launch activity ups a gear

by Chris Bergin

A Russian Soyuz-2.1a rocket with Fregat upper stage has successfully launched the Meridian satellite from the Plesetsk cosmodrome on Sunday, the first of three launches between the 24th and 27th of December.

Christmas Day saw the a Proton-K rocket with DM-2 upper stage launch Kosmos-2426, -2427, -2428 (three Glonass-M) military satellites from Baikonur cosmodrome, and that will be followed by the Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat upper stage launch with the European COROT space telescope on the 27th.

Meridian was launched into a highly elliptical orbit, for reconnaissance and increased communication capabilities for marine vehicles in the Northern Seas and their coastal bases.

The launch – which was conducted for the Russian military – was delayed slightly due to technical issues with the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle. **SPECIFIC LAUNCH BACKGROUND AND NEWS PAGES**

Attention now switches to the Baikonur cosmodrome for the two launches that will be conducted over three days, which begins with the Proton-K launch of the Kosmos-2426, -2427, -2428 (three Glonass-M) satellites. **SPECIFIC LAUNCH BACKGROUND AND UPDATE PAGES**

The vehicle launched from launch pad number 81/24 at the historic launch complex, adding to the updating Glonass constellation.  Glonass is a military network of GPS satellites that enables 3D positioning, velocity measuring and timing for the user.

Russia has been making franic efforts to update their military satellite capability over recent years, led by President Putin, who said he wishes to see the updated Glonass network to be 18 satellites strong by 2007, with six more Glonass Ms set for launch next year and another 12 by 2009.
This constellation will be updated even further with the Soyuz-2/Fregat launch of two Glonass-K satellites in 2010.
December 27 with see another launch from Baikonur, with a Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle – and Fregat upper stage – launching the COROT space telescope on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). **SPECIFIC LAUNCH BACKGROUND AND UPDATE PAGES** – full specific story will follow prior to launch.

COROT will lead a bold new search for planets around other stars. In the decade since the discovery of the first exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b in 1995, more than 200 other planets have been detected from ground-based observatories.

COROT promises to find many more during its two-and-a-half-year mission, and to expand the frontiers of our knowledge toward ever smaller planets. It will look for the tiny drop in light caused by a planet as it slips across the face of its parent star. 

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