Soyuz-2-1v launches military satellite

Russia's light-weight rocket lifted off from Plesetsk on Aug. 1, 2022, delivering a classified payload designated Kosmos-2558. This was the eighth mission for the Soyuz-2-1v launch vehicle since its introduction in 2013


Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifts off on Aug. 1, 2022.

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The Russian government released no advanced information about the payload of the upcoming launch, but on July 22, the authorities issued advisories to avoid two areas in the Barents Sea along the ground track associated with the launch attempt planned between August 1 and 5, 2022. The launch vehicle with the satellite was rolled out to the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022.

Soyuz-2-1v lifts off

The eighth Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifted off on Aug. 1, 2022, at 23:25:48.401 Moscow Time, from Pad 4 at Site 43 in Plesetsk and apparently followed a standard ascent profile seen in several previous missions to a near-polar orbit with an inclination 97.4 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.


Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifts off on Aug. 1, 2022.

Following the first-stage ascent, the second stage took over the powered flight around two minutes into the flight. 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.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Volga upper stage and its payload separated from the second stage of the launch vehicle at 23:34 Moscow Time.

Upon the completion of the second stage firing, the Volga 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.

On the morning of Aug. 2, 2022, the Russian military announced that Volga had successfully released the spacecraft, designated Kosmos-2558, into its planned orbit and that the satellite was under control of ground assets of the Air and Space Forces, VKS.


According to Western satellite observers, the Russian launch took place exactly when the orbital plane of the classified American satellite, USA-326, was passing over Plesetsk. Because it could hardly be a coincidence, observers assumed that the Russian mission would be chasing and inspecting the American payload, like several previous Russian satellites of that type had done in the past. The USA-326 satellite was launched on a Falcon-9 rocket for the National Reconnaissance Office, NRO, on Feb. 2, 2022, into a 512-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.4 degrees toward the Equator. USA-326 was also known to release a sub-satellite, which received an ID No. 53315 and entered a 348 by 388-kilometer orbit.

On Aug. 1, 2022, the US Space Forces found the newly launched Russian vehicle in a 284 by 425-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.25 toward the Equator, but the object was soon identified as the upper stage. The new satellite was then determined to be in a 435 by 452-kilometer orbit, which was considerably closer to its assumed American target than the stage that delivered it into orbit.

According to Dr. Marco Langbroek, an expert in satellite tracking, the orbit difference between USA-326 and the possible Russian inspector was only 0.14 degrees in orbital inclination, 65 kilometers in apogee, 53 kilometers in perigee, 0.20 revolutions per day in mean motion and 0.04 degree in the Right Ascension of the Ascending Node, RAAN, or the longitudinal point where a particular orbit crosses the plane of the Equator, when heading from Southern to Northern hemisphere.

Within 24 hours of the Kosmos-2558 launch, Jonathan McDowell estimated that the Russian satellite would pass within 75 kilometers below USA-326 at around 14:47 UTC on August 4, 2022.

Russian "inspector" chases USA-326

In the following months, Kosmos-2558 continued performing orbit corrections twice or three times per month to keep its orbital altitude between 441 and 444 kilometers, apparently in order to maintain its orbital plane close to that of USA-326, according to tracking by Nico Janssen. But by the middle of March 2023, the Russian satellite climbed even closer to its apparent US target, making possible periodic passes. Kosmos-2558 would pass around 44.6 kilometers from USA-326 on March 18, 2023, at 07:05 UTC, Janssen estimated.

By March 17, 2023, the spacecraft settled in a 459 by 474-kilometer orbit, while USA-326 was in the 485 by 509-kilometer orbit and matching orbital plane. Janssen predicted that without further maneuvers, Kosmos-2558 would pass within 34.2 kilometers from USA-326 on March 19, 2023, at 12:10 UTC and within 44.5 kilometers on March 29, 2023, at 03:51 UTC.

Right before Kosmos-2558 was approaching for an even closer flyby of USA-326, predicted to take place on April 7, 2023, the American satellite maneuvered to a higher orbit sometimes between April 5 and April 6, 2023, Nico Janssen reported on April 7. The sudden orbit correction was probably specifically designed to increase the distance of the closest approach by the Russian satellite estimated at 31 kilometers. Janssen believed it was the first maneuver performed by USA-326, placing the satellite into a 493 by 502-kilometer orbit, while Kosmos-2558 remained in the 455 by 470-kilometer orbit. As a result, the estimated distance between the two spacecraft during their encounter on April 7 grew to 45 kilometers, according to Janssen.

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: April 30, 2024

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: August 2, 2022

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Soyuz-2-1v rocket is ready for rollout to the launch pad from vehicle assembly building in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.


Soyuz-2-1v rocket rolls out to the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.


Soyuz-2-1v rocket is erected on the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.


Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifts off on Aug. 1, 2022. Click to enlarge.


Second stage of the Soyuz-2-1v rocket takes over powered ascent on Aug. 1, 2022.