Soyuz launches 10th Meridian satellite
Russian military personnel at the Plesetsk launch site fired a Soyuz-2-1a/Fregat rocket with a fresh copy of the Meridian satellite. Entering an elliptical orbit around the Earth during a continuing war against Ukraine, the satellite will likely play a role in bolstering military communications, possibly replacing a failed spacecraft within the Meridian series.
The 10th Meridian mission at a glance:
On March 17, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced danger zones in three areas of the Komi Republic: the "Vashka" site in the Udorsky District, and "Zheleznodorozhny" site in the Knyazhpogostsky and Kortkerossky districts. According to the warning, the launch of the Soyuz-2 rocket was planned for March 22, 2022, between 15:00 and 17:00 Moscow Time (8:00 - 10:00 a.m. EDT). Backup launch opportunities were reserved for March 23, 24 and 25.
The announced impact sites matched the ground track required for the mission to access an orbit with an inclination 62.8 degrees toward the Equator, which is used by Meridian military communications satellites.
The 10th Meridian lifts off
The liftoff of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage from Plesetsk's Pad 4 took place on March 22, 2022, at 15:48:22.591 Moscow Time (8:48 a.m. EST). The vehicles carried the 10th satellite in the Meridian series and the third such spacecraft in the second production batch of satellites, known as Meridian-M, whose launches started in 2019.
Several minutes after the planned liftoff, the Russian military confirmed that the liftoff had gone as planned and that its ground assets had begun tracking the ascending vehicle three minutes later.
The routine flight profiles of the Meridian missions typically lasts around two hours and 15 minutes. Lifting off under the power of the first stage, the Soyuz-2 rocket heads southeast across the Russian territory, to align its ground track with an orbit inclined 62.8 degrees toward the Equator. The four boosters of the first stage separate around two minutes into the flight. In the following six minutes, the second and third stages insert the Fregat upper stage and its payload into a ballistic trajectory, just short of orbital velocity.
According to the Russian military, the separation between the third stage and Fregat took place as planned at 15:57 Moscow Time.
After parting with the third stage, the Fregat then fires its engine for 13 seconds to enter an initial parking orbit around 200 kilometers above the Earth's surface. Then, after an almost half-an-hour coasting flight, Fregat's engine ignites again to boost the apogee (highest point) of the orbit to an altitude of nearly 36,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface. Finally, the third firing lifts the perigee (the lowest point) of the orbit to around 885 kilometers, where the satellite is then released.
Free from its cargo, the Fregat upper stage then fires its engine to enter a disposal orbit, safely away from its former passenger.
Around 18:30 Moscow Time on March 22, the Russian media, quoting the Ministry of Defense, confirmed the successful release of the Meridian-M satellite and on March 23, the Russian military confirmed that the Fregat had entered a burial orbit.
According to the US Space Forces, the satellite entered the 974 by 39,767-kilometer orbit with an inclination 62.83 degrees toward the Equator and an orbital period of 725.6 minutes.
By April 9, 2022, the satellite was tracked in a 1,027 by 39,744-kilometer orbit, indicating that it had boosted the perigee of its orbit using an onboard propulsion system. The resulting orbital period was 726 minutes, which was close to the planned 12-hour "Molniya-type" orbit used by the Meridian system.
The purported Meridian spacecraft in launch configuration with the Fregat upper stage and the payload fairing. Credit: NPO PM