A Russian Soyuz 2-1B rocket has successfully launched the Meteor M2 satellite along with a number of companions, including Scotland’s first satellite, on Tuesday. Launch of the satellites – coverage of which was “blacked out” from the media with just 30 minutes notice – took place at 15:58 GMT from Site 31/6 at the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The primary payload on this latest Soyuz launch was the Meteor M2 satellite, a Russian meteorological satellite – which has a heritage that ranges as far back as the 1960s.
The Russians are hoping to launch four of these M class satellites by 2015. These will then be followed by the MP range, from 2016.
Meteor M2 will carry out its role in a 835 kilometer, sun-synchronous orbit, with an expected lifespan of five years.
A number of satellites rode along as secondary payloads, including AISSat-2.
Funded by the Norwegian Space Centre with support from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, is identical to AISSat-1 and incorporates all the improvements made to the system via lessons learned.
“While AISSat-1 was intended to be a demonstration mission, the impact of its quick success and reliable performance was an almost immediate paradigm shift,” noted officials. Norway quickly promoted AISSat-1 to operational status and the nanosatellite approach was adopted for Norway’s operational AIS constellation.”
It is understood that AISSat-2 will increase coverage, shorten revisit times, and provide natural redundancy for space-based AIS observation under direct control by Norway.
The DX1 satellite will join the maritime segment of Dauria Aerospace’s Perseus constellation and will be utilizes to track and monitor vessels in open seas and navigable waterways in the United States, Canada, Northern Europe and Russia.
The DX1 satellite, designed and manufactured by the Skolkovo-based development center of Dauria Aerospace, is equipped with a commercial Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload and features a proprietary microsatellite platform.
“Dauria is excited about the launch of DX1, especially as interest in remote sensing and the commercial satellite industry in general is quickly growing,” noted Mike Kokorich, founder and president at Dauria Aerospace.
“Following our recent partnership with Elecnor Deimos, this launch underscores our commitment to promoting accessibility and innovation in technology.”
The Canadian Space Agency’s M3MSat was also going to hitch a ride uphill. However, the technology demonstration satellite – that will be used to assess the utility of having in space an Automatic Identification System (AIS) for reading signals from vessels to better manage marine transport in Canadian waters – was pulled from the manifest due to politics.
SkyBox Imaging was also a customer for this Soyuz mission, with their SkySat-2 bird a follow up to the SkySat-1 launch.
An American company, SkyBox intends to use the satellite for commercial Earth imagery. SkySat-1 and 2 were developed in-house by a team of Stanford graduates used to working on CubeSats, and its development was based on similar principles with regards minimising costs and unnecessary systems.
The spacecraft has a mass of 100 kilograms (220 lb), and carries an imaging system which is expected to photograph the Earth at a resolution of up to one metre (3.3 feet). This second satellite to be launched as part of the company’s long-term plans calling for a constellation of 24 spacecraft.
SkySat-1 was launched as part of a massive 32 satellite haul by a Russian Dnepr rocket in November, 2013.
Of large media interest are two UK satellites. The first, TechDemoSat-1, is a satellite platform derived from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) heritage technology, which will function as an ‘in-orbit test facility’ for innovative UK payloads and software.
At around one meter cubed and a mass of around 150kg, TechDemoSat (TDS-1) is carrying no less than eight payloads plus a mixture of heritage and new product development systems from SSTL.
Among the new systems flying on the satellite is an enhanced on board computer giving greater ability to conduct software experiments remotely, a new battery charge regulator and newly qualified cell types on two of the solar panels.
The propulsion system involves a smaller tank size trialled with a new high performance resistojet thruster along with new sun sensors in the Altitude and Orbital Control System (AOCS) adding increased accuracy to the previous sensors used.
The total amount of technology on board has thus led the internal communication system to be operated on an upgraded CANbus ensuring noise immunity, and minimal contention between nodes.
While it is hoped a successful mission will lead to an ongoing program, the satellite itself will be able to bid farewell via its own self destruction technique that employs a sail that would be deployed from the satellite to force it out of the sky to burn up on entry interface.
The other UK payload was Scotland’s first satellite.
The UKube-1 satellite was jointly funded by Clyde Space of Scotland and the UK Space Agency (UKSA). This mission was the first mission to be commissioned by the UKSA since it was formed in 2010.
Ukube-1 is the most advanced 3U cubesat of its kind and is testing several new technologies in space.
The payloads flying on UKube-1 were selected following a competition run by the UK Space Agency to find the most innovative and creative payloads in the UK for a CubeSat. The competition received more than 20 payload submissions, several of which are also being considered for future missions.
For this mission, UKube-1 sports payloads including TOPCAT, from the University of Bath, which is the first GPS device aimed at measuring plasmaspheric space weather.
Also riding uphill on the satellite was the CMOS Image Demonstrator, from the Open University, which involves a camera that will take images of the Earth and test the effect of radiation on space hardware using a new generation of image sensor.
Meanwhile Astrium’s “Janus” Experiment will demonstrate the feasibility of using cosmic radiation to improve the security of communications satellites and to flight test lower cost electronic systems.
The wonderfully named FUNcube-2 from AMSAT is an outreach payload allowing school children of primary and secondary age to interact with the spacecraft.
The satellite is also sporting an advanced On-Board Computer (OBC) from a company in Glasgow (Steepest Ascent) and an S-Band Transmitter from Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Unlike the Canadians, the UK said it did not feel the geopolitical situation with Russia warranted the removal of their payloads from the Soyuz mission.
Another satellites involved with this launch campaign was the Relek satellite – sometimes known as MKA-PN 2 – a Russian microsatellite featuring a magnetospheric scientific payloads to study electron precipitation.
Meanwhile Latvia’s first satellite, Venta-1, was set to round off the payload manifest.
However, this satellite – equipped with two digital photo cameras that will capture pictures of Earth’s surface from the space – was also pulled from the mission.
A Soyuz-2-1b rocket was used to launch the array of satellites, as the Soyuz-2 closes in on the 30 launch milestone.
The Soyuz-2 is the latest in a long line of Russian rockets derived from the R-7 missile, which became the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile when it flew in 1957.
Payloads launched by R-7 rockets have included the first satellite, Sputnik 1; the first manned spacecraft, Vostok 1, and every subsequent Soviet or Russian manned mission; the first spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, Mechta (Luna 1), the first missions to impact and land on the Moon, Luna 2 and Luna 9, and many other significant missions.
The Soyuz is descended from the Voskhod rocket, an R-7 derivative which was developed to launch the Soviet Union’s second-generation manned spacecraft and reconnaissance satellites. Soyuz incorporated the Blok-I third stage originally developed for the Molniya rocket, but lacked the Molniya’s fourth stage.
Since its first flight in 1966, numerous modifications have been made. The original Soyuz was replaced by the Soyuz-U, which remains in service along with the Soyuz-FG, an improved derivative which is mostly used for manned launches of Soyuz-TMA spacecraft.
The Soyuz-2 is a more complete modernisation, and will eventually replace the Soyuz-U and FG.
Compared to the Soyuz-U, the Soyuz-2 has modernised first and second stage engines – the RD-107A and RD-108A respectively, which were introduced on the Soyuz-FG. It also includes modifications to the third stage, and a digital flight control system, features not present on the Soyuz-FG.
The third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a retains the RD-0110 engine used on previous variants, while the Soyuz-2-1b is propelled by an RD-0124.
A third Soyuz-2 variant, the Soyuz-2-1v, differs significantly from the rest of the R-7 family, consisting of only the second and third stages of the Soyuz-2-1b, without the first stage, and with an optional Volga upper stage.
For the 2-1v, the first stage (the 2-1b’s second stage) is powered by an NK-33 engine with an RD-0110R vernier. The 2-1v’s debut occurred at the end of 2013. Exclusive documentation on this vehicle was acquired by L2 (LINK).
The Soyuz-2-1b is a three-stage rocket by the numbering system used by Russia. Under the system more commonly used in the west, it would be regarded a two-stage rocket, with four strap-on boosters, however instead the strap-ons are numbered stage 1, the first core stage is numbered stage 2, and the second core stage is numbered stage 3.
The first and second stage engines ignited together, about 17 seconds ahead of launch, building up to full thrust before the four swing-arms holding the rocket down was released.
Following liftoff, the rocket flew for approximately 118 seconds before the first stage separated. The four strap-ons fell away from the rocket and back towards Earth, forming a pattern known as the Korolev Cross after Sergei Korolev, the designer of the R-7.
The second stage continued to burn for another 170 seconds, before separating from the third stage. The Upper Stage was then Fregate, providing the final thrust to place the satellites into their required orbits. Separations occured over a 90 minute period.
The mission launched from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
One of seven R-7 launch pads to be built, two of which are at Baikonur, it is one of four currently in use – the others being ELS, the Soyuz pad at the Centre Spatial Guyanais; Site 1/5 at Baikonur; and Site 43/4 at Plesetsk.
Sites 16/2 and 43/3 at Plesetsk are not currently in use as they are not compatible with the Soyuz-2, and Soyuz-U launches from Plesetsk have now ended.
The pads are expected to be converted for the Soyuz-2 in the near future. Site 41/1 has not been used for a launch in over 20 years, and has since been demolished.
(Images via Roscosmos, L2 and the satellite manufacturers)