First launch of EgyptSat-2 satellite

In 2014, a Russian rocket launched a new-generation surveillance spacecraft designed to give the Egyptian military a powerful "eye in the sky."

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A Soyuz rocket with Egyptsat-2 satellite shortly after rollout to the launch pad at Site 31 on April 13, 2014.

Road to the launch pad

As of 2012, the launch of Egyptsat-2 was expected in September 2013. The Soyuz-U rocket for the mission arrived to Baikonur on July 19, 2013.

In August 2013, RKK Energia displayed a full-scale mockup of the Egyptsat-2 satellite at the Moscow Air and Space Show, MAKS, while Egyptian officials were on hand for talks with their Russian counterparts. A leaflet circulated at the show promoted a constellation of similar satellites with three different imaging payloads and capable of delivering highly detailed, medium-resolution and overview imagery depending on the altitude of their orbits.

At the time, RKK Energia officials said privately that the launch of Egyptsat-2 would have to be postponed until 2014. Still, as late as October, the delivery of the satellite to the launch site was scheduled for November 14 and its launch on December 23, 2013. According to industry sources, RKK Energia completed the thermal vacuum testing of the satellite around the same time.

By November 2013, official Russian media reported that the launch of Egyptsat-2 had been postponed until April 2014. The spacecraft was shipped to Baikonur at the end of February 2014. Its final pre-launch processing was taking place a RKK Energia's Site 254. The fully assembled Soyuz rocket with the spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad at Site 31 on April 13, in preparation for launch on April 16, at 20:20 Moscow Time.


A Soyuz rocket with Egyptsat-2 satellite around one hour before launch on April 16, 2014.


Egyptsat-2 enters orbit

The launch of the Soyuz-U rocket took place as scheduled on April 16, 2014, at 20:20:00 Moscow Time (12:20 EST) from Site 31 in the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The launch vehicle was carrying a Russian-built Egyptsat-2 satellite designed to provide high-resolution imagery for the Egyptian military and other government agencies in the country.

The spacecraft was successfully delivered into its planned orbit 520 seconds after liftoff.

The development and launch campaign for Egyptsat-2 has been conducted largely in secret. Only one visual of the operational spacecraft was released to the public by its manufacturer RKK Energia after the successful launch. Notably, in its post-launch press-release, the company avoided the use of name Egyptsat-2, instead identifying the satellite as a "spacecraft for optical-electronic observation developed for the foreign customer."

RKK Energia announced that the satellite had been inserted into a 720 by 440-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.6 degrees toward the Equator. Its ground facility established control over the satellite at 21:52 Moscow Time, the company said. Western radar detected two objects in orbit with similar parameters, probably representing the satellite and the third stage of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle. The satellite was expected to use its own propulsion system to enter a final operational orbit.


Egyptsat-2 begins operational mission

According to the BARL enterprise, one of the contractors in the Egyptsat-2 project, the satellite established reliable communications with ground control during its first orbit after the launch and the analysis of the telemetry indicated that all onboard systems had been working well. The main and backup flight control modes were also tested, BARL said in its press-release.

In the meantime, OAO Aveks, which built electrical system of the satellite and its propulsion control system announced that it had confirmed the successful operation of its hardware by April 22.

The BARL Enterprise then announced that first images from the satellite had been received on April 29, 2014, and on May 5, two pairs of photos taken on April 30 had been released.

According to the official information, from April to August 2014, Egyptsat-2 was expected to use its SPD-70 electric propulsion system to circularize its orbit at an altitude of 720 kilometers. The Western radar data did confirm that beginning on May 1, 2014, the satellite started slowly raising its orbital altitude. By the end of June, the spacecraft was orbiting the Earth in a 685 by 714-kilometer orbit, nearly completing its planned orbital ascent, according to estimates by a Russian space observer Igor Lissov.

On July 14, the head of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota told the official Interfax-AVN news agency that the preparations for the demo tests of the satellite had been underway and for the transfer of the whole system to the customer. "All systems of the satellite and its operational modes had already been tried and the quality of delivered images had exceeded our boldest expectations," Lopota was quoted as saying.

In February 2015, an assistant to the Russian president Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying that the deployment of the E-STAR system for Egypt had been completed previous December. The satellite was formally transferred to an operator on Jan. 1, 2015, industry sources said. Rumors about Egyptian interest in the second such satellite were also circulating at the time.

EgyptSat-2 fails in orbit

In April 2015, rumors surfaced on the Internet that the EgyptSat-2 either completely failed in orbit or experienced attitude control problems. There were no official confirmation or denial from the official sources, but if the satellite was lost, it would functioned only one year out of 11-year life span in its technical specifications. It would also repeat an ill fate of its Ukrainian-built predecessor, which had also failed prematurely.

According to industry sources, an expected dual failure in the flight control system rendered the satellite completely inoperable. The spacecraft apparently stopped reacting to commands from the ground, despite all efforts of mission control.

By the end of April, the official Russian media confirmed the loss of the satellite citing unnamed sources. A report by the Interfax news agency said that both flight control computers onboard the spacecraft had failed within 15 seconds of each other on April 12, 2015. According to the Izvestiya daily, the satellite failed on April 14.

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Article and photography by Anatoly Zak; last update: February 21, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: April 16, 2014

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Egyptsat-2 during prelaunch processing. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


A Soyuz rocket with Egyptsat-2 satellite around half an hour before liftoff on April 16, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


A Soyuz-U rocket with Egyptsat-2 satellite lifts off on April 16, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos



View of Melbourne, Australia, taken on April 30, 2014, and published on May 5. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia.


Taylor Bay

Photo of Taylor Bay on Lake Eildon in Victoria, Australia, taken on April 30, 2014, and published on May 5. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia.