Russia launches Soyuz 2.1v with Razbeg reconnaissance satellite

by Joseph Navin

At 19:59 UTC on September 9, a Soyuz 2.1v rocket launched from Site 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying the Razbeg n°1 satellite for the Russian Ministry of Defense. The launch was originally scheduled for mid-July, but multiple launch attempts were canceled due to unknown circumstances, and the vehicle was rolled back to the integration facility prior to this launch attempt. 

The Razbeg n°1 satellite is a small-sized military optical reconnaissance satellite. The payload was built by the Russian corporation NPP VNIIEM. Onboard the satellite is a camera which was built OAO Peleng, a company from Belarus. This camera has a maximum ground resolution of 0.9 meters while operating in the panchromatic mode.

The Plesetsk Cosmodrome Launch Site

The Plesetsk Cosmodrome is one of three major launch sites operated by the Russian military and the state-owned corporation Roscosmos. These include the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the newer Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian far east. 

The Plesetsk Cosmodrome is located in the Arkhangelsk Oblast, which is located north of Moscow in western Russia. The spaceport itself is located near the Yemtsa River and near the town of Mirny. Plesetsk was the second spaceport built by the then-Soviet Union, with Baikonur being the first. Construction workers arrived at the site of the cosmodrome in 1957. 

A previous Soyuz 2.1v mission lifts off from Plesetsk – via Roscosmos

The site at Plesetsk was originally chosen to be a base for the R-7 Semyorka Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The site’s location allowed for targets in the United States and North America to be in range of the R-7. 

Four R-7 launch complexes, similar to those at Baikonur, were built at Plesetsk. These included Site 41/1, Site 16/2, Site 43/3, and Site 43/4. The first launch pad to be made operational was Site 41/1, which was the host of the first suborbital launch of an R-7A from Plesetsk.

In the 1960s, the former R-7 pads were repurposed as launch complexes for the Soyuz family of launch vehicles. The first orbital launch to take place from Plesetsk occurred on March 17, 1966, from Site 41/1 on a Vostok rocket carrying the Kosmos-112 reconnaissance satellite.

All of the original R-7 launch complexes at Plesetsk are still operational except for Site 41/1, which was retired in 1989. 

Other launch facilities and locations at Plesetsk have facilitated launches of the Rokot, Kosmos-2, Kosmos-3, R-14, and Tsyklon-3 launch vehicles. The cosmodrome is also the host to ICBM and other military rocket tests to this day.

The latest test flight of the Angara rocket launches from Plesetsk in December 2020 – via Roscosmos.

Plesetsk is currently the host of the only operational Angara launch complex, Site 35/1. However, this will change when the Angara complex at the Vostochny Cosmodrome is completed. The most recent launch from Site 35/1 was an Angara A5 with a Briz-M upper stage in December 2020.

The Soyuz 2.1v Launch Vehicle

The Soyuz 2.1v is one of the variants of the Soyuz-2 rocket built by the Progress Rocket Space Center in Samara, Russia. In the mid-late 2000s, development of the Soyuz 2.1v began, which was known as the Soyuz 1 at the time. 

Unlike prior variants of the Soyuz rocket, including the Soyuz 2.1a and the Soyuz 2.1b, The Soyuz 2.1v has a modified first stage, which uses a single NK-33 engine and the four-nozzled RD-0110R. 

These two engines replace the four side boosters with the RD-107A and the RD-108A on the first stage on other Soyuz variants. Along with the planned Soyuz-5, it is the only Soyuz rockets not to feature a “Korolev Cross,” which occurs when the four side boosters separate during ascent.

The NK-33 rocket engine was designed and built by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau, originally for the N-1 rocket for the Soviet lunar program. The engine runs on Liquid Oxygen and RP-1 Kerosene and operates in the staged combustion cycle. 

The NK-33 engine first flew on the Antares-100 rocket as the Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26. On the fifth launch of the Antares rocket, an AJ-26 failure causing a launch failure. Antares now uses the RD-181, and the NK-33 engine is being phased out of Russian launch vehicles.

An AJ-26 engine failure led to the loss of an Antares rocket in October 2014 – via NASA.

After the remaining stockpile of NK-33 engines is exhausted, the first stage of the Soyuz 2.1v will shift to the RD-193 engine.

An RD-0124 engine powers the second stage on the Soyuz 2.1v. The stage is identical to the third stage on the Soyuz 2.1b.

Instead of having the option of using the Fregat upper stage, as is the case on other Soyuz-2 rockets, the Volga upper stage is offered on the Soyuz 2.1v.

Razbeg Launch

At T-0, the NK-33 main engine and the RD-0110R on the first stage of the Soyuz 2.1v ignited. The swing arms then released the Soyuz 2.1v, and the rocket lifted off from Site 43/4 at Plesetsk.

Soon after, the Soyuz 2.1v rocket, with the help of its RD-0110R engine, rolled to the proper launch azimuth for its required polar orbit inclination. The rocket then pitched downrange of Plesetsk.

As the launch vehicle ascended, it headed north over the inland areas of northeast Russia and then flew over the White Sea. Soon after, the Soyuz 2.1v crossed the Arctic Circle over the Murmansk Oblast. 

In a process called hot staging, the RD-0124 engine on the second stage ignited, followed soon after by the first stage separating with the shutdown of both the NK-33 and RD-0110R engines. Hot staging is also used on the Soyuz 2.1a and the Soyuz 2.1b and has been used on retired Soyuz rocket variants.

The first stage later impacted the ocean off the coast of the Murmansk Oblast.

Soon after, the payload fairings which protect the Razbeg satellite from the aerodynamic forces in the lower parts of the atmosphere. The rest of the track took the vehicle over the Barents Sea.

After launch, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the Razbeg n°1 satellite was inserted into a nominal orbit. Once the Russian military takes over operations of the Razberg satellite, the satellite will be designated as Kosmos-2551.

(Lead photo of Soyuz 2.1v lifting off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome – via Roscosmos)

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