Russia conducted a complex mission Friday to deploy seventy-three satellites via a Soyuz-2-1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage. Following liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:36 local time (06:36 UTC), the Fregat upper stage performed a series of burns over eight-and-a-half hours to inject its payloads into their planned polar orbits.
The primary payload for Friday’s launch was Kanopus-V-IK, a multispectral imaging satellite which will be operated by Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, and the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, Roshydromet.
Seventy-two small satellites accompanied Kanopus-V-IK for the ride into orbit – the most flown on a Russian vehicle – under arrangements made by Roskosmos’ commercial arm, Glavkosmos. Two were federal satellites launched by Roskosmos.
The Kanopus-V-IK satellite is the second in a series of at least six remote sensing spacecraft that are being launched by Russia to provide wide-angle Earth imagery for civilian users, alongside the country’s high-resolution Resurs spacecraft and Meteor-M weather satellites.
The Kanopus-Vulkan – or Kanopus-V – series saw its first launch in July 2012, with a Soyuz-FG/Fregat delivering Kanopus-V No.1 into orbit. Another satellite – Kanopus-ST – carried an oceanography payload however this was lost after failing to separate from the Volga upper stage of its Soyuz-2-1v carrier rocket in December 2015.
Kanopus-V-IK was originally built as the second Kanopus-V spacecraft – Kanopus-V No.2. Based on a bus developed for the Kanopus program, the satellite was manufactured by Russia’s NPP VNIIEM, with some subsystems such as the spacecraft avionics, computers and power distribution subcontracted to British company Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL).
Kanopus-V No.2 has originally been slated for launch in 2013, however this was delayed in order for the satellite to be fitted with an additional infrared imaging payload. The spacecraft’s new name, Kanopus-Vulkan-Infrakrasnyy, which in English means “Canopus-Vulcan Infrared”, reflects this additional capability.
In addition to the new infrared sensor, Kanopus-V-IK carries a Panchromatic Imaging System (PSS), a Multispectral Imaging System (MSS) and a prototype Multispectral Scanner Unit (MSU-200). The panchromatic imager, operating at a wavelength of 0.52 to 0.85 microns, has a resolution of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet).
The MSS instrument operates in four channels, at 0.54 to 0.60 microns, 0.63 to 0.69 microns, 0.69 microns to 0.72 microns and 0.75 microns to 0.86 microns. It has a resolution of 12 meters (39 ft).
The 473-kilogram (1,043 lb) Kanopus-V-IK spacecraft is designed to operate in a circular, 512-kilometre (318-mile, 275-nautical-mile) sun-synchronous orbit with inclination of 97.4 degrees. The satellite is designed to operate for at least five years.
Of the seventy-two secondary payloads on Friday’s launch, forty-eight are three-unit CubeSats being carried on behalf of US company Planet Labs.
Designated Flock-2k, these form part of a large constellation of small, short-lifespan satellites which Planet Labs are using for commercial Earth imaging, at resolutions of up to three meters (10 feet). Many such satellites been launched in the past three-and-a-half years, via Antares, Atlas V, Dnepr, Falcon 9, H-IIB and PSLV rockets. Friday’s mission brings the total number launched, including those lost in Falcon and Antares launch failures, to over 300.
Eight Lemur-2 satellites are being flown for Spire Global of the United States. Also conforming to the three-unit CubeSat specification, these spacecraft are the forty-second to forty-ninth members of Spire’s constellation.
Each spacecraft is equipped with two payloads. STRATOS monitors how signals from GPS satellites are occulted as they pass through the atmosphere, allowing conditions such as the temperature, pressure and humidity to be inferred. SENSE relays Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ships at sea.
Three satellites, CICERO-1, 2 and 3 are being carried for US company GeoOptics Incorporated, as part of the Community Initiative for Cellular Earth Remove Observation (CICERO) constellation.
Following CICERO-6, which was deployed by India’s PSLV rocket last month, these will join what is to become a multi-satellite constellation of atmospheric remote sensing satellites. The spacecraft are six-unit CubeSats, built by Tyvak Incorporated. Like the Lemur satellites, CICERO will use the occultation of signals – from both GPS and European Galileo satellites – to determine atmospheric conditions.
Two Corvus-BC satellites aboard the Soyuz are six-unit CubeSats, carrying a multispectral, medium-resolution, area survey imaging payload. The two spacecraft will be operated by American firm Astro Digital, as part of an eventual 30-satellite constellation incorporating ten Corvus-BC CubeSats and twenty larger, higher-resolution, Corvus-HD satellites.
The final US payload aboard the rocket, NanoACE, is a three-unit CubeSat which was built and will be operated by Tyvak Incorporated. The satellite will be used to demonstrate the company’s Endeavor-series CubeSat platforms, with a particular focus on attitude control, although the spacecraft does also carry infrared and visible-light imaging payloads.
In addition to the Kanopus spacecraft, four other Russian satellites are aboard the Soyuz launch. MKA-N No.1 and MKA-N No.2 were built by Dauria Aerospace on behalf of Roskosmos. The satellites carry imaging payloads with a resolution of 20 meters (66 feet) and are intended to serve as demonstrators of the CubeSat platform – using a six-unit form factor – for Roskosmos.
Mayak is a three-unit CubeSat which was built by Tvoii Sektor Kosmosa – or “Your Sector of Space” – an independent, crowd-funded team of engineers in conjunction with the Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering. Mayak – meaning Lighthouse – will deploy a highly reflective tetrahedral structure.
Each side of this structure has an area of four square meters, or 43 square feet. To ground observers, the satellite is expected to have an apparent magnitude of up to -10, making it one of the brightest objects in the night sky. The structure will double as a deorbit mechanism, hastening the decay of the satellite’s orbit.
Iskra-MAI-85 is a three-unit CubeSat to be operated by the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI). The satellite is intended to give MAI experience with developing a CubeSat mission, using indigenous Russian technology.
Russia’s Kursk-based Southwestern State University (YuZGU) has partnered with Ecuador’s Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial (UTE) for the Ekvador UTE-YuZGU mission. A single-unit CubeSat, this spacecraft will perform a study of molecular clouds and demonstrate a high-speed downlink for transmitting data back to Earth.
Flying Laptop is a 140-kilogram (310-pound) spacecraft built by the Institute for Space Systems at the University of Stuggart. Almost every subsystem aboard the satellites is intended to demonstrate new hardware or technologies. This includes a Multispectral Imaging Camera System (MICS) to conduct Earth observation, the use of star trackers – which are ordinarily used for attitude determination – to detect near-earth Asteroids, and to track ships via an Automatic Identification System receiver.
Flying Laptop is one of two German satellites on Sunday’s launch, the other being TechnoSat. This 18-kilogram (40 lb) spacecraft was constructed by the Technical University of Berlin to test the TUBiX20 satellite bus developed by the university. Designed for a one-year mission, TechnoSat will test key systems before the launch of the TUBIN spacecraft, currently scheduled for next year.
WNISAT-1R, for Japan’s Weather News Incorporated (WNI), is a commercial metrological satellite which will be used to monitor weather conditions over the Arctic shipping lanes. The 40-kilogram (88-pound) spacecraft is a replacement for WNISAT-1, which launched in November 2013 aboard a Dnepr rocket. The spacecraft carries visible-light and infrared instruments to observe conditions directly, and lasers for atmospheric sounding to monitor carbon dioxide levels.
Norway’s NORSAT-1 and NORSAT-2 spacecraft were built by the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTAIS) for the Norwegian national space agency Norsk Romsenter, based on UTAIS’ Generic Nanosatellite Bus (GNB). NORSAT-1 is equipped with a Langmuir probe, the Compact Lightweight Absolute Radiometer (CLARA) and an AIS receiver.
The 15-kilogram (33 lb) NORSAT-2 also carries an AIS receiver, along with a VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) to provide for higher-bandwidth communications between ships and the shore.
Friday’s launch took place from Launcher 6 of Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. One of two Soyuz launch complexes at Baikonur – along with the historic Launcher 5 at Site 1 – the pad was built in the late 1950s and first used in 1961 for a test flight of the Soviet Union’s R-7A missile.
The complex was originally built for operational deployment of R-7 missiles, but later became a launch site for orbital missions using rockets derived from the R-7, including Soyuz. Pad 31/6 is the only pad at Baikonur currently equipped to support the Soyuz-2 rocket, as opposed to the earlier Soyuz-FG used for manned launches to the International Space Station.
The Kanopus launch used a Soyuz-2-1a rocket with a Fregat-M upper stage. The Soyuz-2-1a is one of four operational versions of Soyuz, alongside the legacy Soyuz-FG, the Soyuz-2-1b which features an upgraded third stage, and the Soyuz-2-1v, which is based on the Soyuz-2-1b but without boosters and with an NK-33 engine powering the core stage.
The Soyuz-2-1a first flew in November 2004, making a suborbital test flight ahead of its first orbital launch in 2006.
Soyuz is – under Russian nomenclature – a three-stage rocket. The first two stages – four strap-on liquid boosters and a core stage – ignited seventeen seconds before liftoff, ramping up to full thrust. Consuming RG-1 refined petroleum, oxidized by liquid oxygen, each of the boosters was powered by an RD-107A engine while the core had an RD-108A. The first stage burned for the first minute and 57 seconds of the flight, before its four boosters separated.
The second, or core, stage continued to burn for another two minutes and 50 seconds after first stage separation. As is normal for a Soyuz launch, the third stage, or Blok I, ignited its RD-0110 engine and separated close to the end of the second stage burn, with the second stage engine still firing.
Two seconds after stage separation, the payload fairing separated from around the spacecraft stack at the nose of the vehicle.
The Soyuz third stage burned for four minutes and one second, before shutting down and separating. Five seconds after separation, the Fregat upper stage ignited its S5.92 engine to begin the first of seven planned burns. Lasting six minutes and thirty-six seconds, this burn established Fregat and its payload in an initial parking orbit.
Fregat’s second burn, to inject the Kanopus spacecraft into its planned deployment orbit, began following a 42-minute, 43-second coast and lasted 86 seconds. This resulted in an orbit of 523 by 478 kilometers (325 x 297 miles, 282 x 258 nautical miles), inclined at 97.4 degrees.
Separation of Kanopus-V-IK, which was mounted at the top of the payload stack, occurred one hour, one minute and 18 seconds after liftoff, or 100 seconds after the end of Fregat’s second burn. Kanopus-V-IK was the only satellite to separate into this orbit.
A 66-second third burn began at one hour, 36 minutes and 40 seconds mission elapsed time (MET), with a fourth burn of the same duration beginning at two hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds MET. These two burns placed Fregat in a roughly circular orbit at an altitude of about 600 km (373 miles, 324 nautical miles) and an inclination of 97.6 degrees. All of the secondary payloads except Flock-2k separated in the orbit. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth Fregat burns all called for approximately 66 seconds of burn duration.
Three hours and 15 minutes after liftoff, Fregat began its fifth burn, with a sixth beginning at three hours, 57 minutes and 50 seconds MET to establish an orbit of around 480 kilometers (300 miles, 260 nautical miles) for separation of the Flock – or Dove – satellites.
A mission timeline published by Roskosmos indicates that these satellites did not separate, however, until seven hours, 41 minutes and 23 seconds after launch. Flock-2k separation took place over a 22-minute, 54-second period.
It is unclear why such a long coast has been left between the sixth burn and spacecraft separation, prompting earlier speculation that the timeline may have been incorrect and this event may be scheduled earlier, possibly at the four-hour, 41-minute mark. However, the confirmation pointed to it being a correct timeline.
Ten minutes and 32 seconds after the final Flock-2k satellite separated, Fregat fired its engine one last time to deorbit itself. This seventh burn lasted one minute and 56 seconds, placing the upper stage on course to reenter over the Indian Ocean.
Friday’s mission was the ninth of the year for Russian vehicles and the eighth for Soyuz – including two launches from Arianespace’s commercial Soyuz launch complex at the Centre Spatial Guyanais in Kourou, French Guiana.
The next Soyuz launch is scheduled for 28 July, with a Soyuz-FG carrying the manned Soyuz MS-05 mission on its way to the International Space Station. Another Soyuz launch in support of the Kanopus program is expected in late November, with the Kanopus-V No.3 and No.4 satellites launching together atop a Soyuz-2-1a/Fregat-M from the Vostochny Cosmodrome.
(Images via Roscosmos and the small satellite manufacturers).