A Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket was launched from Site 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Dec. 1 at 12:10 AM Moscow time (21:10 UTC on Nov. 30). Onboard was likely a Lotos-S electronic intelligence satellite for the Russian military.
There is a possibility that additional payloads are to be deployed by the primary satellite later, based on unclear state news reports. Only Lotos-S1 No. 6 and its Soyuz upper stage were initially cataloged in orbit.
The payload was deployed into a 240 by 900 km orbit, inclined 67.1 degrees. This is a consistent transfer orbit with the other Lotos-S1 satellites, which operate in an approximately circular 900 km orbit.
The Lotos series form a replacement for Soviet-era Tselina and US-PM surveillance satellites. Since the 1990s, the Liana program, composed of the Lotos and Pion satellites, has aimed to bring upgraded and more-capable reconnaissance and intelligence satellites into Russia’s arsenal.
Lotos satellites replace the Tselina-2 series of satellites. First launched beginning in the 1980s and continuously launched for over two decades, Tselina-2 satellites are tasked with electronic signals intelligence (ELINT). ELINT is a process involving intercepting radio signals and relaying collected information for military analysis.
Wednesday’s Lotos-S1 No. 6 joins a network of six other Lotos satellites, one of which is a developmental version of the spacecraft launched in 2009 named Lotos-S. The first launch of an operational version, Lotos-S1, occurred in December 2012, and the remaining two satellites in the series will be operational variants ordered by the Russian Ministry of Defence in September 2017.
Lotos spacecraft are baked on the Yantar satellite bus, built by TsSKB Progress, which provides onboard propulsion and power. The reconnaissance technology, which is integrated into the bus, is built by the KB Arsenal Design Bureau, the prime contractor for the Liana program.
With the satellite now in orbit, it will be renamed and numbered into the “Kosmos” nomenclature typically used with Russian military payloads. This newest Lotos-S1 satellite is expected to be named Kosmos-2565.
Kosmos designations have been in use since the 1960s and generally serve to provide obscurity to the exact identity of payloads. These designations are similar to the USA-x designations that classified satellites launched by the United States receive for similar purposes.
The Soyuz-2.1b launcher used on Wednesday is one of three active variants in the Soyuz family of rockets, and looks the most like the early Soyuz rockets, using four liquid-fueled boosters surrounding a central core. This design is also used on the Soyuz-2.1a but is not used on the Soyuz-2.1v, which doesn’t use the four side boosters and instead uses only a single core.
Other variants of the Vostok rocket include the Molniya variant, adding a fourth stage, allowing it to reach the highly elliptical orbit of the same name.
Lotos-S1 No. 6 lifted off aboard Soyuz-2.1b from Site 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Plesetsk is one of three Cosmodromes currently used by the Russian Military as well as Roscosmos, Russia’s state-owned space agency. The other two Cosmodromes currently in use are Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in the former Soviet Union-incorporated nation of Kazakhstan, and Vostochny Cosmodrome, located in Russia’s far east.
During the 1960s, the former R-7 pads were repurposed to allow launches of R-7-derived launch vehicles, such as the Vostok rocket as well as the Soyuz family of launch vehicles. The first orbital launch from Plesetsk occurred on March 17, 1966, when a Vostok-2 launched Kosmos-112, a first-generation Soviet optical reconnaissance satellite to low Earth orbit.
Wednesday’s launch was the second from Site 43 at Plesetsk in under three days. On Nov. 28, another Soyuz-2.1b launched from the neighboring Site 43/3 carrying the final GLONASS-M navigation satellite.
(Lead photo: Soyuz-2.1b lifts off from Site 43/4 with Lotos-S1 No. 6. Credit: Roscosmos)