Russia launches classified military satellite – Spaceflight Now



A classified Russian military satellite, possibly designed with a new miniature reconnaissance camera, was launched on September 9 on a single-core version of the Soyuz rocket.

The Soyuz 2-1v rocket lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia’s far north at 2:59 p.m. EDT (1859 GMT), according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry. Liftoff from Plesetsk took place at 10:59 p.m. Moscow time.

Powered by a kerosene-powered NK-33 engine, the rocket headed north over the Arctic Ocean, targeting an orbit flying north-south over the Earth’s poles.

The rocket lost its exhausted first stage and dropped its payload envelope after soaring above the perceptible atmosphere, leaving Soyuz’s second stage to place its military payload into orbit.

Russian defense officials said in a statement that the rocket successfully deployed its payload to the correct orbit. Tracking data from the US military indicated that the satellite separated from the rocket in a near-circular polar orbit at about 300 kilometers above sea level.

The orbital parameters are similar to those of an experimental terrestrial imaging satellite launched on a previous Soyuz 2-1v rocket mission in 2018. This satellite, known as EMKA, was supposed to be a demonstrator of a future fleet of military reconnaissance satellites.

The EMKA spacecraft carried a compact optical imaging payload that could fit on a relatively small satellite. Analysts believe the satellite launched on September 9, named Razbeg, is an operational version of the EMKA satellite for the Russian military.

The satellite flies in an unusually low orbit, which could allow its camera to collect higher resolution images.

The launch on September 9 marked the seventh flight of the Soyuz 2-1v rocket configuration.

The Soyuz 2-1v is a modified version of the Russian Soyuz rocket that flies without the four liquid fuel strap boosters used on standard Soyuz configurations. A single, kerosene-powered NK-33 main engine replaces the four-nozzle mid-stage engine used on other Soyuz rocket variants.

The NK-33 engine was originally developed for the Soviet-era N1 moon rocket, which was canceled in the 1970s after four failed test launches. Russia retained the NK-33 engines after the cancellation of the N1 rocket program. Some of the plants were exported to the United States and loaded onto Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket to launch supplies to the International Space Station.

But Northrop Grumman redesigned the Antares booster to use newly manufactured Russian RD-181 engines. Investigators blamed the Antares launch failure in 2014 on one of the NK-33 engines – known as the AJ26 in the United States – stored for decades after Russia halted development of the giant rocket N1.

The Soyuz 2-1v first stage also includes four vernier steering motors mounted around the NK-33 main motor. The second stage of the modified launcher is powered by an RD-0124 engine, the same type of powertrain also used on the modernized Soyuz 2-1b version of the classic Russian Soyuz rocket.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.


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