Second Arktika satellite lifts off

Roskosmos closed its 2023 orbital launch attempts on December 16 with a Soyuz rocket mission carrying the second Arktika remote-sensing satellite into a highly elliptical orbit stretched above the northern hemisphere of our planet. Like its predecessor, it will be used primarily for meteorological observations of the Arctic Region.


Arktika-M2 mission at a glance:

Spacecraft designation Arktika-M No. 2
Launch date and time 2023 Dec. 16, 12:17:48.220 Moscow Time
Spacecraft mass 2,077 kilograms
Spacecraft prime developer NPO Lavochkin
Launch vehicle Soyuz-2-1b No. Ya15000-058
Upper stage Fregat No. 122-11
Payload fairing 81KS No. A15000-066
Launch site Baikonur, Site 31
Target orbit 1,043 by 39,727 kilometers; inclination: 63.30 degrees
Spacecraft operational life span 7 years

Preparations for flight


According to the original public schedule of the Arktika project circa the early 2010s, the second satellite for the constellation was promised fly in 2016. In 2015, the mission was postponed from 2018 to 2019. By 2018, the launch was penciled for 2021, but by 2021, the mission slipped to 2023.

After completion of its assembly at NPO Lavochkin, the flight-worthy spacecraft was shipped to the NITs RKP center in Sergiev Posad for thermal testing during the night of June 20 to 21, 2023. The three-week testing period was completed in mid-July 2023, after which the satellite was delivered back to NPO Lavochkin. The launch vehicle for the mission was delivered to Baikonur around Nov. 1, 2023.

After completion of integrated tests at NPO Lavochkin, the Arktika-M2 spacecraft was flown from Moscow's Sheremetievo airport to Baikonur on Nov. 13, 2023. The fueling of the satellite started in Baikonur on Nov. 28, 2023, and was completed by Dec. 4, 2023, when it was delivered to the processing building at Site 31.

The final integration of the launch vehicle with the payload section was completed on Dec. 11, 2023, and the next day, the meeting of the State Commission gave the green light for the rollout of the rocket to the launch pad, which took place in the morning of Dec. 13, 2023.

Arktika's launch profile


A Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat rocket carrying the 2,100-kilogram Arktika-M No. 1 satellite lifted off from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 16, 2023, at 12:17:48.220 Moscow Time.

The mission targets a highly elliptical (egg-shaped) orbit that requires the satellite around 12 hours to make every revolution around the planet. It is known as a "Molniya orbit" after a series of original Soviet communications satellites. The system was used to provide coverage across the USSR, including its high latitudes that were hard to reach for geostationary satellites orbiting in the Equatorial plane of the Earth and therefore appearing very low over the horizon in these vast regions of the planet, if at all. The Arktika-M is designed to use a similar orbit primarily for weather-monitoring activities rather than for communications.

The initial three-stage ascent of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket is largely routine with the liftoff under the simultaneous thrust of the four peripheral engines of the first stage and the central engine of the second stage.

The four strap-on boosters of the first stage consume their propellant first and drop off 1 minute 58 seconds after liftoff. In the meantime, the core booster continues firing until 4.7 minutes into the flight and separates 4 minutes 48 seconds into the flight, immediately followed by the split and separation of three segments of the third stage skirt and the halves of the payload fairing 4 minutes and 51 seconds after liftoff. These three milestones are timed in close proximity from each other to ensure that all the debris fall in the designated drop zone along the mission's ground track. The particular impact site is located near the Novaya Burka village in the Bakcharskiy District of the Tomsk Region in Western Siberia.

The third stage of the rocket ignites its RD-0124 engine moments before the separation of the second stage, firing for a few seconds through a lattice structure connecting the two boosters until the core stage drops off. The third stage then keeps firing until 9 minutes 24 seconds into the flight, just before it reaches orbital velocity in order to make sure it does not reach orbit and instead splashes down in the Arctic Ocean.

Upper stage maneuvers


Shortly after entering its ballistic path, or 10 minutes and 24 seconds after liftoff, the Fregat upper stage was programmed to fire its main engine for the first time, reaching an initial parking orbit around the Earth.

Soon thereafter, the mission's ground track approached the eastern-most limit of the Russian ground stations' range, therefore the Fregat's second maneuver, performed 51 minute and 20 seconds after liftoff, could not be confirmed until the vehicle made the full circle around the Earth and reappeared from the West within the range of the Russian ground network. By that time, the Fregat/Arktika stack was on its second coasting phase climbing toward the apogee (highest point) of its elliptical transfer orbit.

Once at apogee of the transfer orbit (and around half way to the peak of the target orbit), the Fregat performed its third firing 4 hours 39 minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff, inserting the spacecraft in the 1,550 by 39,227-kilometer orbit with an inclination 63.3 degrees toward the Equator and the orbital period of 726 minutes. (The same maneuver also adjusted the inclination by a few tens of a degree.)

The separation of the upper stage and the 2.2-ton satellite was scheduled to take place 4 hours 44 minutes and 4 seconds after the liftoff from Baikonur or at 17:01 Moscow Time (9:01 a.m. EST). At 17:23 Moscow Time, Roskosmos confirmed that Arktika-M2 had successfully separated from the Fregat. However, according to Scott Tilley, specialized in radio tracking of orbiting objects, he was not able to detect any signals in C- or L-band from Arktika-M2 on the first day of its flight, unlike it was the case with its predecessor.

By the end of 2023, Arktika-M2 was tracked in a 1,530 by 38,849-kilometer orbit with an inclination 63.3 degrees toward the Equator.

On Jan. 16, 2024, Roskosmos published first view of the Earth's arctic region, which had been one of the images obtained by the Arktika-M2 a day earlier in the course of the flight testing. According to the State Corporation, the satellite functioned well in its elliptical orbit.


Article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: January 16, 2024

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: December 15, 2023

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insider content


A core stage component of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket for the Arktika-M2 satellite is being unloaded from a rail car at Site 31 in Baikonur as the Fregat upper stage for the mission is undergoing checks on the background. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Upper composite of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket with the Arktika-M2 satellite shortly before liftoff. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Booster stages of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket shortly before ignition on Dec. 16, 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Soyuz-2-1b lifts off on Dec. 16, 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos