Soyuz-2-1v launches a pair of classified payloads
Russia's light-weight rocket lifted off from Plesetsk on Oct. 21, 2022, carrying two classified payloads publicly designated Kosmos-2561 and -2562. This was the ninth mission for the Soyuz-2-1v launch vehicle since its introduction in 2013.
The Russian authorities did not release any advanced information about the payload in the October 21 launch, but earlier in the month, an advisory was issued to air and sea traffic to avoid an area in the Barents Sea along the ground track associated with the rocket launch planned between October 18 and 21. The location appeared to match a drop zone for a payload fairing of the Soyuz-2-1v/Volga launch vehicle heading to the near-polar orbit.
According to unnoficial posts on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki web forum, the rocket was expected to deliver a pair of new-generation military satellites designated 14F164 and 14F172. These indexes were not associated with publicly known projects and leaving the intended mission of the satellites unclear on the eve of the launch.
The first attempt to launch the mission was made on the evening of Oct. 18, 2022, but the countdown was apparently aborted shortly before the scheduled liftoff, followed by a 24-hour delay. Another attempt on evening of October 19 was also scrubbed, apparently in the final stages of preparations for liftoff and was also re-scheduled for the following day.
Soyuz-2-1v lifts off
The ninth Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifted off on Oct. 21, 2022, at 22:20:15 Moscow Time, from Site 43 in Plesetsk and apparently followed a standard ascent profile to an orbit with an inclination around 97 degrees toward the Equator.
After a few seconds in vertical ascent, the vehicle headed almost exactly north, under the power of a single NK-33 main engine and the four thrusters of the RD-0110 steering engine. Lacking the four strap-on boosters of its predecessors in the Soyuz family of rockets, Soyuz-2-1v relied solely on a modified core booster as its first stage.
Following the first-stage ascent, the second stage took over the powered flight around 3.5 minutes into the flight. According to witnesses on the ground, the separation of the stages took place at 22:23:45 Moscow Time.
It fired its four-chamber engine moments before the separation of the first stage, thanks to a lattice structure connecting the two boosters, which allows free flow of the exhaust from the second-stage engine above. Right after the separation of the first stage, the tail section of the second stage split in three segments and fell away.
Both the first stage and the fragments of the tail section were to splash down in the Barents Sea, north of Murmansk.
As the second stage continued to thrust, the payload fairing protecting the secret satellite split in two halves and also separated. Its fragments were to fall into the Arctic Ocean, south of the Spitsbergen Archipelago.
Upon the completion of the second stage firing, the Volga upper stage and its payload entered an initial parking orbit. All further maneuvers to insert the satellite into its final orbit were conducted with the help of Volga's main engine in the next 1.5 hours. After releasing its payload, the Volga upper stage performed a deorbiting maneuver over the Pacific Ocean.
The Russian military confirmed the fact of the launch around two hours after the fact and later confirmed the delivery of Kosmos-2561 and Kosmos-2562 satellites into orbit for needs of the Ministry of Defense without any other details.
The US Space Forces initally registered three objects associated with the launch and later added one more. They had following orbital parameters:
In 2023, Western observers noticed that the secretive Kosmos-2562 had synchronized its orbit with the Resurs-P No. 3 remote-sensing satellite. Based on the history of orbital elements from the two Russian spacecraft compiled by Jonathan McDowell, it appeared that the technically "civilian" Resurs-P No. 3 performed an orbit-lowering maneuver in November 2022 to an altitude of around 392 kilometers.
In the meantime, Kosmos-2562, launched on October 21 of the same year, also descended from an original altitude of around 412 kilometers to that of Resurs-P No. 3 a few days later.
In the subsequent seven months, the orbital parameters of Resurs-M No. 3 showed a natural slowly accelerating decay to an altitude of around 365 kilometers. At the same time, Kosmos-2562, whose orbit was decaying slightly faster, appeared to perform periodic small orbit-boosting maneuvers, which were likely designed to synchronize its altitude with that of Resurs-P No. 3.
Kosmos-2562 maneuvered until the end of July 2023, after which its orbit began decaying without any sign of boosts. In the meantime, Kosmos-2561 made two detectable maneuvers in the middle of September 2023, after five months of seemingly uneventful flight. On Sept. 28, 2023, Kosmos-2561 was expected to make a close pass with a low speed relative to the Chinese Jinzijing-1 satellite launched on April 26, 2021. Both satellites were orbiting the Earth in a 350-kilometer orbit with an inclination around 97 degrees toward the Equator.
Possible launches of maneuverable satellites:
Soyuz-2-1v rocket is erected on the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.