A Soyuz/Fregat rocket shortly after installation on the launch pad on Feb. 18, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-12 lifts off on March 14. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
Russian space activities in 2019
At the beginning of the year, the official Russian media promised 45 launches of rockets and missiles built by the Russian industry within the Roskosmos State Corporation in 2019. They included 32 orbital launch attempts with spacecraft. However, these numbers did not included test firings of submarine-based missiles. Around five or six military orbital launches were promised from Plesetsk and as many as 19 from Baikonur. In November 2018, the Russian emergency agency, MChS, also promised launches of six remote-sensing satellites, inclduing radar-carrying spacecraft before the end of 2019. The Ministry of Defense also promised during 2019 to deploy 31 Yars and Avangard launchers, four Tu-95 cruise-missile-carrying aircraft and the Knyaz Vladimir submarine with Bulava missiles.
Russian orbital assets included 91 spacecraft as of May 14, 2019, according to Roskosmos. There is no independent confirmation of operational status of some satellites and others officially listed as part of the constellation are known to be inoperable or crippled.
The world's orbital launch attempts in 2019 (as of September 18, 2019 ):
The 2019 space launch score card (as of September 18, 2019 ):
Planned Russian orbital launch attempts:
September 25, 16:57 Moscow Time: A Soyuz-FG rocket to launch the Soyuz MS-15 transport spacecraft (Production No. 744/ISS mission 61S) from Baikonur. The crew will include a Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, a US astronaut Jessica Meir and a commercial passenger from the United Arab Emirates, UAE, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. The spacecraft is scheduled to dock at the Russian Segment of the International Space Station, ISS, at 22:57 Moscow Time on the day of the launch.
As of the end of February 2019, Roskosmos was yet to get a final agreement with NASA about the potential use of one seat on the Soyuz MS-15 for a paid passenger. At the same time, Roskosmos needed to get NASA to agree to extend the mission of another US astronaut aboard the ISS to as long as one year, in order to free the return seat for a tourist on the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft, which was scheduled for landing on Oct. 3, 2019.
According to an earlier plan, the commercial passenger from UAE would launch on April 5, 2019, aboard the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft and, after a 10-day flight, hitchhike back to Earth the returning Soyuz MS-10 on April 15, 2019. However, the latter vehicle, which carried only two crew members, never made it to orbit due to a launch vehicle failure. In the meantime, two candidates from UAE began training at Star City in September 2018.
After the Soyuz MS-10 accident on Oct. 11, 2018, NASA re-confirmed its plans to add its second astronaut to the Soyuz MS-12 crew and thus leaving no free seats aboard the three-seat vehicle. As a result, the only other way to provide an extra seat for the returning space tourist would be bumping the return of one of the professional astronauts to another mission.
Moreover, according to the original schedule, the launch of Soyuz MS-15 was planned for Oct. 18, 2019, or after the planned departure of Soyuz MS-12 on October 3 after 203 days in space.
In order to overlap the two missions at the ISS, by the beginning of 2019, Roskosmos evaluated advancing the planned launch of Soyuz MS-15 to September 23 and, later, to September 25.
The September 25 launch date was formally confirmed in the official ISS flight manifest, which was approved by Roskosmos on Feb. 25, 2019. According to that document, Soyuz MS-15 was expected to remain in orbit for 187 days, implying the return to Earth on March 29, 2020. As an unintended consequence of three transport vehicles docked at the station simultaneously for eight days, the station's crew will reach nine people from Sept. 29 until October 3.
After completion of their training at Star City, primary and backup crew flew to Baikonur on September 10 for the familiarization checks with the flight-worthy Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. The crews sat inside the vehicle undergoing final preparations at the processing building at Site 254 on September 11, 2019.
The technical management then cleared Soyuz MS-15 for fueling and loading of pressurized gases, which started on September 12. On the same day, inside the vehicle assembly building at Site 112 specialists completed the integration of four boosters of the first stage and the core booster of the second stage for the mission's Soyuz-FG rocket.
Fueling operations with the spacecraft were completed on September 14 and the vehicle was installed back in its processing rig at Site 254 for further operations. On September 16, the Soyuz MS-16 was installed on top of the adapter ring, serving as an interface with the Soyuz FG launch vehicle. On September 18, specialists conducted the final visual inspection of the spacecraft and then rolled it inside its protective fairing.
Soyuz MS-15 is being lowered into horizontal position for integration with its payload fairing on September 18, 2019.
September 30, 13:26 Moscow Time: A Proton-M/Briz-M rocket to launch from Baikonur with a pair of satellites built by Orbital ATK: the 2,864-kilogram Eutelsat-5 West-B and the first Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1. The Eutelsat-5 West B satellite is based on Orbital ATK's GEOstar platform and carries communications payload developed at Airbus Defense and Space. During its ride to orbit on the Proton, Eutelsat-5 West-B will be stacked on top of the MEV-1 satellite.
The two-launch agreement between Eutelsat and the International Launch Services, ILS, which markets Proton rockets to commercial customers, was announced on October 12, 2016. The deal also included the first order for the yet-to-be developed Proton-Medium rocket to carry an unidentified payload for Eutelsat in 2019 or 2020. The agreements for both launches were pre-arranged in a preliminary deal between ILS and Eutelsat, first announced in October of 2015.
By July 2018, the mission had to be postponed from the the fourth quarter of 2018 to March 2019, until after the launch of the Yamal-601 satellite, due to delays with the delivery of Eutelsat and MEV satellites. Then, at the end of 2018, delays with the tests of the payload adapter required to postpone the mission until the second quarter of 2019. At the beginning of June, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted GKNPTs Khrunichev's spokesman as saying that the company "was ready to provide the launch of Eutelsat-5 West-B and MEV-1 spacecraft at the end of Summer 2019, in accordance with the customers' production and testing schedule." However, sources familiar with the real status of the payload told RussianSpaceWeb.com in the second half of June that the satellites had been projected for shipment to the launch site at the end of July, allowing to begin the launch campaign in Baikonur in early August 2019. Because of the dual payload on the mission, the Northrop Grumman team in Baikonur would need more time than the regular 25-day processing campaign at the launch site. As a result, the mission could not lift off before early September, industry sources said.
By the end of June, the Northrop Grumman was yet to finalize the arrangements for the shipment of the satellites to Baikonur, which could be delayed from the last week of July to the first week of August, in turn requiring shifting the launch date for the mission to a period after September 15. However, by the beginning of August, the launch slipped further to at least September 30.
The components of the launch vehicle for the mission, including boosters stages of the Proton-M rocket, the transfer adapter, the payload fairing and the Briz-M upper stage, was shipped to Baikonur during the night from July 21 to 22, 2019, Roskosmos announced. The train with the vehicle's components reached Baikonur on July 31.
The satellites arrived at Baikonur around August 28.
An artist rendering of the mission extension vehicle (left) approaching an aging satellite.
Middle of November: A Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat-M to launch the GLONASS-K1 No. 15L (Block K4s) navigation satellite from Pad No. 4 at Site 43 in Plesetsk. The spacecraft was apparently intended to replace the vehicle No. 717 which experienced technical problems.
December 6: A Soyuz-2-1a rocket to launch a Progress MS-13 cargo ship from Baikonur toward the International Space Station, ISS. As of 2014, the launch was planned for Oct. 16, 2018. At the time, when the launch vehicle for the mission was unloaded in Baikonur at the end of August 2019, the launch was planned for December 20, however by the middle of September 2019, the launch of the mission was advanced to December 6. The assembly of the first and second stages of the launch vehicle for the mission was completed on September 5.
December 19: A Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a cluster of 32 OneWeb Internet communications satellites from Baikonur. The launch was previously scheduled in November, but by September, it was postponed to December 2019.
December: A Soyuz rocket to launch the Italian dual-purpose COSMO-SkyMed and European CHEOPS satellites from the ELS complex in Kourou, French Guiana. The launch was previously planned for October 2019, but by September of that year, the mission was postponed until December 2019.
Delayed from May: A Rockot to launch a trio of Gonets-M communications satellites, a pair of Blits-M experimental satellites and the Radio-2017 experimental satellite from Plesetsk. The primary payload was originally planned for launch as early as 2016 and, in case of unavailability of the Rokot, could fly on the Soyuz-2-1v rocket. The mission was later postponed from the Fall of 2016, the third quarter of 2017 and October 2018
When first announced in 2006, the Lybid spacecraft was expected to fly in 2010, but it was later postponed until September 2011. In April 2010, the launch was promised in April 2012. However, according to the Yuzmash production plant in Dnipro, Ukraine, it received an order for the Zenit rocket to launch Lybid in 2011. In the meantime, the mission was delayed until the fourth quarter of 2013. In August 2014, Ukrainian space agency said that the spacecraft would be ready for launch in the fourth quarter of that year, however political problems between Russia and Ukraine kept the spacecraft on the ground.
Only in March 2017, there were first signs that the Lybid program might have a chance to get off the ground. In an interview with the Interfax-Ukraine news agency, Acting Head of Ukrainian Space Agency, GKAU, Yuri Radchenko said that before the end of that month, the Yuzhmash factory in Dnepr, Ukraine, was expected to pay Moscow-based NPO Energomash for the RD-171 engine to be installed on the fully assembled first stage of the Zenit rocket slated to launch Lybid. At the same time, industry sources said that personnel at Yuzhmash had began testing a fully assembled second stage of the Zenit for the Lybid mission.
As of September 2017, the launch of the Lybid satellite was postponed from the end of the year to the first quarter of 2018. Within a month, the launch date was narrowed down to the Jan. 1-10, 2018, period. However on Jan. 11, 2018, Yuzmash announced that it had been waiting for $8.245 million to complete the manufacturing of the Zenit rocket for the mission, which was now officially under an order from the TsENKI launch infrastructure center, a division of the Roskosmos State Corporation. By taking the formal ownership of the launcher, TsENKI, likely provided a political cover for the Lybid launch, necessary under the conditions of mutual sanctions between Moscow and Kiev. As of February 2018, it was unclear whether the satellite could be launched before the end of the year.
2019: A Soyuz rocket with a Fregat upper stage to launch the second pair of a quartet of satellites to study plasma within the Roy ("Swarm") project from Plesetsk. Each 200-kilogram spacecraft would be based on the Karat platform with plasma-electric engines and carry around 60 kilograms of payload. The scientific payload would be based on the Strannik experiment. (612). Each spacecraft would carry a single magnitometer boom and four booms for measurement of the magnetic field.
2019: Russia to launch the Okean No. 1 ocean-monitoring satellite. (As of 2010-2012)
2019: An Angara rocket to fly its first mission from a newly completed launch pad in Vostochny Cosmodrome, possibly with an unpiloted prototype of the PTK NP spacecraft. (A statement by the head of TsNIIMash research institute Gennady Raikunov on December 3, 2012, promised the first launch of PTK NP on Angara in 2018.)
Uncertain launch dates
Postponed from June 2018: A Rockot/Briz-KM booster to launch the Geo-IK-2 No. 13L geodesic satellite for the Russian Ministry of Defense from Pad 3 at Site 133 in Plesetsk. (As of 2016, the mission was promised in 2017. Then planned between June and December 2018.)
Delayed from 2018: A Proton-M/Block DM-03 rocket to launch a trio of GLONASS-M navigation satellites (No. 56, 57, 58) from Baikonur. (Postponed from 2014, beginning of 2015, May 2015 and 1st quarter of 2017.)
After 2017: Soyuz rockets to launch SAR-Lupe-2 observation satellites. (As of September 2012)
End of 2018: Soyuz-2-1b rocket to launch an eight-ton OKA-T-MKS No. 1 (52KS) free-flyer module from Vostochny to be serviced from ISS during its five-year mission. The spacecraft would be used for research in the field of nanoelectronics, alloys, composite materials and biotechnology. (459) The launch was originally planned for 2015, however by fall 2011, it had to be postponed to 2017-2018, due to lack of potential customers. (521) In April 2013, the launch was promised at the end of 2018. (634)
Postponed from 2017:
2017: Russia to launch the Kartograf-OE No. 1 remote-sensing satellite. (Before 2012, the launch was expected as early as 2014).
Postponed from 2015:
End of 2015 - end of 2016: A Soyuz or Vega rocket to launch the 200-kilogram Taranis satellite into a quasi-sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 700 kilometers. Developed by the French space agency, CNES, the Taranis satellite (Tool for the Analysis of RAdiation from lightNIng and Sprites) will be a secondary payload during a mission to deliver multiple spacecraft. The satellite will study magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupling via transient processes, focusing in particular on two aspects: determining the characteristics and frequency of transient luminous events (TLE) involved in the coupling between the ionosphere and atmosphere, and characterizing the electron beams accelerated from the atmosphere to the magnetosphere. The contract for the mission between Toulouse Space Center and Arianespace was announced on July 9, 2012. The agreement also included options for the launch of two other CNES satellites, Microscope and Merlin.
Postponed from 2015: Soyuz rocket to launch the Foton-M No. 5 spacecraft. The spacecraft is expected to be equipped with solar panels, modified service module, and the new liquid-propellant orbit correction engine. The orbital life span of the satellite to be launched into the 400-450-kilometer orbit was expected to increase to 60 days. (As of April 2009)
Postponed from around 2015: Russia to launch Kosmos-SKh satellite to monitor agricultural development from space.
Postponed from 2015: Russia to launch the Kartograf-OE No. 2 remote-sensing satellite.
Postponed from 2016:
2016: Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat-SB rocket to launch the Arkon-2M No. 2 remote-sensing satellites for all-weather radar observations of the Earth surface from a 550-600-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit. In 2010, a pair of spacecraft was scheduled for launch in 2013, however by 2012, the first Arkon-2M was expected to fly in 2015 and the second in 2016. The Arkon-2M program was canceled by November 2012.
Canceled Russian missions
Aug. 5: A Dnepr rocket to launch a pair of GRACE-FO scientific satellites for the European Space Agency, ESA, from a silo facility 370/13 in Dombarovsky. The mission was switched to a Falcon-9 rocket.
2017: Russia to launch Arkon-2 No. 1 radar remote-sensing satellite. As of 2008, the first launch of Arkon-2 was promised in 2011 (299), however during 2010-2012 period, the mission was expected in 2017.
2017: The Baiterek launch complex in Baikonur to host its first mission of the Angara rocket. (As of end of 2010. As of 2008, the first Angara mission from Baikonur was promised in 2012; by 2009, it slipped to 2014 and by 2011 to 2017. The program was canceled in 2012).
2017-2018: A Soyuz rocket with a Fregat upper stage to launch the first pair of a quartet of satellites from Plesetsk to study plasma within the Roy ("Swarm") project. Each 200-kilogram spacecraft would be based on the Karat platform with plasma-electric engines and carry around 60 kilograms of payload. Each spacecraft would carry a single magnetometer boom and four booms for measurement of Earth's electric field.
2017: Russia to launch Smotr-R No. 1 remote-sensing satellite.