|Soyuz delivers Meridian-M satellite
After a nearly five-year hiatus, the Russian military launched an eighth Meridian communications satellite on July 30, 2019, to replenish its latest-generation Integrated Satellite Communications System, ISSS. A Soyuz-2-1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage was reported to perform as planned.
Mission at a glance:
Meridian rides Soyuz-2-1a to orbit
According to Roskosmos, the launch of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket from Plesetsk took place as scheduled on July 30, 2019, at 08:56 Moscow Time (1:56 a.m. EDT) with the Meridian communications satellite onboard.
"The liftoff and ascent to orbit of the launch vehicle and the orbital insertion of the spacecraft went nominally," the official press-release said, "Three minutes after liftoff, ground assets of the automated control complex belonging to the Titov Chief Test Center began tracking the Soyuz-2-1a vehicle."
Roskosmos announced that the Meridian spacecraft had entered orbit as scheduled and had been under control of ground assets of the Air and Space Forces. "All systems aboard the spacecraft are functioning normally," Roskosmos said.
The official statement also said that the satellite had been intended for providing communications of sea vessels and planes of the ice reconnaissance service along the Northern Sea Route with ground stations and for expanding the communications network in the northern regions of Siberia and the Far East in support of economic development in the Russian Federation. "The use of the Meridian satellite in the highly elliptical orbit will allow to increase the operational and technical-economic specifications of the existing means of communications, thanks to the expansion of the available usable frequency range channels, the introduction of additional channels, the increase of the (satellite's) life span and higher reliability," Roskosmos said.
After the launch, the Combined Space Operations Center, CSpOC, in the United States listed a Fregat upper stage in a 885 by 39,570-kilometer orbit with an inclination 62.786 degrees toward the Equator and an orbital period of 719.82 minutes, which is close to a 12-hour Molniya-type orbit used by Meridian missions. The spacecraft was then found in a slightly higher 993 by 39,741-kilometer orbit.
In the meantime, the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket, which by design cut off its engine and separated just before it had developed orbital velocity, naturally reentered the Earth's atmopshere and burned up over a designated area south of New Zealand.
Several hours after the launch, the official Russian media quoted the Ministry of Defense representatives as saying that specialists of the Titov Chief Test Center "conducted operations to dispose off Fregat upper stage from the satellite's orbit." In reality, these types of maneuvers are pre-programmed before the flight and upper stages like Fregat are not designed to receive commands from the ground.
Rollout of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with the eighth Meridian satellite. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense