Soyuz launches military payload
Russian military personnel in Plesetsk launched a second satellite in three days. A Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifted off on Dec. 1, 2022, likely carrying a semi-classified payload known as Lotos-S1 or 14F145. It is the seventh addition to the Liana constellation performing electronic intelligence from space for the Russian armed forces. The launch came just three days after the delivery of a GLONASS satellite from a nearby pad on November 28.
The seventh Lotos-S1 mission at a glance:
Preparations for launch
The 7th mission of the Lotos-S satellite brought the deployment pace of the Liana constellation to tw0 spacecraft per year, however, it was unclear whether the system required the expansion or the replacement of the failed satellites. Based on the official Russian publications, this particular satellite is likely the second vehicle in the four-spacecraft production batch ordered in 2017.
The preparations for the seventh Lotos mission were revealed at the end of November in the advisory issued by the local environmental ministry in Russia's Komi Republic. The announcements warned about rocket debris scheduled to fall in the Ust-Tsilimsk and Izhemsky Districts. This time, the primary launch window was on Dec. 1, 2022, between 00:00 and 02:00 Moscow Time (4 - 6 p.m. EST). Backup launch windows were on December 2, 6 and 7, from 22:00 to 24:00 Moscow Time.
These sites were previously used for dropping the four boosters of the first stage and the payload fairing of the Soyuz rockets heading to an orbit with an inclination of 67 degrees toward the Equator with Lotos-S and Neitron satellites.
A similar warning was issued for impact sites between Yar Sale and Ports Yakha settlements and Panaevsk - Khadaty-Yakha sites in the Yamal Regions, which were previously employed for discarding the second stage and three panels of the aft skirt from the third stage, along the same ground track.
Orbital ascent scenario
Available information from the previous launches into the Liana constellation and advisories to air traffic allowed projecting the flight scenario for this mission. After a few seconds in vertical ascent, the rocket headed northeast to align its ground track with an orbit inclined around 67.1 degrees toward the Equator. The four boosters of the first stage separated after around two minutes into the flight and fell at the S15 drop zone around 350 kilometers from the launch site. The payload fairing protecting the payload was dropped next, likely targeting the S16 drop zone in the Komi Republic.
Less than five minutes into the flight, the core booster of the rocket completed its firing and separated as well.
Moments before the second stage separation, the RD-0124 engine of the third stage ignited and fired through the interstage lattice structure, which separated moments later along with the second stage. Around five seconds after that, the tail section on the third stage was dropped splitting into three segments. Both, the second-stage booster and the segments of the tail section were expected to fall at the S18 drop zone in the Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous Region. The third stage then continued firing until around nine minutes into the flight, before releasing its payload into an initial orbit.
The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the launch soon after the fact, however, unusually reported the delivery of more than one spacecraft into orbit. Also unusually, there was no official confirmation that the spacecraft had received an expected official designation Kosmos-2565.
However, orbital elements published by the US Space Forces several hours after the launch showed only two tracked objects, presumably the payload and the third stage of the Soyuz rocket. Moreover, their orbital parameters practically matched initial orbit for Lotos series:
In previous launches of Lotos satellites, the spacecraft and its empty third stage first entered a 200 by 900-kilometer elliptical orbit, but the satellite fired its engine in apogee to circularize its orbit at a safe altitude of around 900 kilometers a couple of days later. The satellite would then be ready for operation.
In fact, by Dec. 3, 2022, the presumed Kosmos-2565 was reported entering a 898 by 912-kilometer orbit, essentially confirming its relation to the Liana network. Around the same time, another object associated with the launch was cataloged by the US Space Force, giving credence to the previous Russian announcement that implied the deployment of multiple satellites during the mission. Interestingly, at least one previous Liana mission – Kosmos-2528 – was also seen producing extra objects, which were characterized as debris at the time.
A complete list of launches in the Liana constellation:
Lotos-S electronic intelligence spacecraft. Credit: Arsenal
Soyuz rocket rolls out to the launch pad No. 4 in Plesetsk at the end of November 2022. Credit: Arsenal