Russia launched a Soyuz rocket through a veil of fog above the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday, carrying the first spacecraft of a new program to monitor Arctic weather systems and relay communications from ’emergency.
The Soyuz-2.1b rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Site 31 launch pad at 1:55:01 a.m. EST (06:55:01 a.m. GMT; 11:55:01 a.m. local time) and quickly disappeared in a haze of fog hanging over the icy steppes of Kazakhstan.
The rocket’s kerosene-fueled engines generated nearly a million pounds of thrust to exit the launch pad. The Soyuz headed northeast from Baikonur and jettisoned its four first-stage boosters about two minutes after liftoff. The rocket’s second stage, or middle stage, continued firing until just under five minutes into the mission. The Soyuz payload fairing was jettisoned after the rocket climbed above the dense, lower layers of the atmosphere.
A third stage powered by an RD-0124 engine ignited to accelerate the Arktika-M 1 satellite and a Fregat upper stage to near orbital speed.
The Fregat upper stage with Arktika-M 1 separated from the Soyuz third stage at T+plus 9 minutes, 23 seconds, soon followed by the first Fregat main engine burn to reach a preliminary parking orbit. Two more Fregat engine firings were to propel the Arktika-M 1 spacecraft into a highly elliptical or oval-shaped orbit between approximately 600 miles and 25,000 miles (1,050 and 39,800 kilometers).
The 4,850-pound (2,200-kilogram) Arktika-M 1 satellite was scheduled to deploy from the Fregat space tug at 4:14 a.m. EST (0914 GMT), about 2 hours and 19 minutes after liftoff.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has confirmed the Arktika-M 1 satellite separated from its launcher in a targeted orbit. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, tweeted that the satellite’s solar arrays opened as expected and ground crews established communications with the spacecraft.
“All good!” Rogozin tweeted.
Sunday’s Soyuz launch occurred under conditions “on the edge” of the rocket’s weather constraints, according to Rogozin. Winds up to an altitude of 2 kilometers were particularly strong, Rogozin tweeted.
“But the rocket and its control system coped with flying colors,” he wrote.
In its elongated trajectory around the Earth – also called a Molniya-type orbit – the Arktika-M 1 spacecraft will take about 12 hours to complete one lap around the planet.
The satellite’s orbit has an inclination of approximately 63.3 degrees, which means that Arktika-M 1 will linger over the northern hemisphere when it is farthest from Earth, providing its instruments a view of Arctic weather conditions for several hours in each orbit. With two orbiting satellites positioned 180 degrees apart, the Arktika network could provide round-the-clock coverage of the Arctic.
Arktika-M 1 is the first in a new line of satellites designed to provide persistent weather data over the Russian Arctic, home to economically lucrative natural resources, energy reserves and an important region for Russian military operations. The Arktika-M satellites are built by NPO Lavochkin, the same Russian company that builds the Fregat upper stages.
The Arktika-M 1 satellite is based on the design of the Russian Elektro-L meteorological satellites which fly in geostationary orbit above the equator. Weather observatories in geostationary orbit collect images 24 hours a day over the same part of the Earth, but they are not able to peer into weather systems over high latitude regions.
According to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, the Arktika-M satellites will obtain color images of clouds and the Earth’s surface in the Arctic. The Arktika-M satellites also house radio receivers and transmitters to relay information from weather stations and search and rescue beacons in polar regions, inaccessible to conventional geostationary satellites.
In addition to weather observations and emergency communications support, the Arktika-M satellites will help predict solar flare activity, measure radiation through the Van Allen belts, and collect magnetosphere and solar data. ionosphere, said Roscosmos.
Roscosmos said engineers modified the design of the spacecraft used for Russia’s Elektro-L weather satellites to suit the Arktika program. Changes include additional radiation hardening and solar batteries to meet the challenges of Molniya’s elliptical orbit.
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