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Soyuz-2 launches a classified satellite, secondary payloads

Russian military personnel at Plesetsk Cosmodrome launched multiple satellites for the Ministry of Defense and several Russian developers on a Soyuz-2-1b rocket soon after midnight on May 17, 2024.


launch

Soyuz-2 rocket mission on May 17, 2024, at a glance:

Payloads
Kosmos-2576, Zorky-2M No. 4, No. 6, SITRO-AIS No. 53, 54, 55, 56, Rassvet-2 (3)
Launch date
2024 May 17, 00:21:29 Moscow Time
Launch vehicle
Launch site
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On April 24, 2024, during visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Plesetsk, the official video release showed a third stage of the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle seemingly being prepared for integration with an already assembled booster cluster of the first and second stages. A third stage for another Soyuz-2 rocket was also visible, but there was no sign of a payload section in the integration building at that point. (Normally, the payload section would first be integrated with the third stage, before the resulting upper composite would be connected to booster stages).

bars

In the first half of May 2024, Russian authorities issued warnings for sea and air traffic in the Barents and Norwegian Seas for a rocket launch planned during a period from May 16 to 26, 2024. The projected impact sites were along the ground path to a near-polar Sun-synchronous orbit, previously used by Soyuz rockets delivering Bars-M military cartography satellites. One site off the coast of the Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea would be used to drop a payload fairing, while the second site south of Svalbard Archipelago would receive the remnants of the second stage.

However, this time, another advisory was issued for an impact site in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of the Californian Coast, indicating that the third stage would be dropped there after reaching near-orbital velocity, instead of entering orbit and then reentering uncontrollably, as it had happened in previous Bars-M launches. In turn, the flight scenario leaving the third stage on a ballistic trajectory revealed that a some kind of fourth stage, such as Fregat or Volga space tugs, would be used to insert the payload into an initial orbit and, likely maneuver it further to a target orbit — another major departure from the Bars-M missions.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the launch took place on May 17, 2024, at 00:21 Moscow Time on a Soyuz-2-1b rocket with multiple satellites onboard.

On May 17, 2024, the US Space Force initially catalogued a single object associated with the launch in a 436 by 451-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.246 degrees toward the Equator. However, a total of six objects were listed soon thereafter.

Around the same time, Moscow-based Sputniks company, a branch of Sitroniks Speis, announced that six of its payloads had been successfully launched and were under control of the company's ground facility. The payloads included two Zorky-2M remote-sensing spacecraft and four SITRO-AIS automated identification system satellites for tracking sea vessels. According to the company, Zorky-2M represented a 12-unit Cubesats with a mass of 18 kilograms and dimensions of 20 by 20 by 30 centimeters. They carried an imaging multi-spectral camera operating in optical and near-infrared range with a resolution of 2.5 by 2.8 meters per pixel and a swath of 14 kilometers on the Earth's surface.

The AIS satellites represented three-unit cubesats, according to Sputniks.

The US Space Force then added three more objects to the list, Objects G, H, and J, which could represent three military payloads or two payloads and the Fregat upper stage, which released them:

ID
NORAD ID
Orbital period
Inclination
Perigee
Apogee
2024-092A
59773
93.45 minutes
97.25 degrees
451 kilometers
435 kilometers
2024-092B
59774
95.45 minutes
97.59 degrees
549 kilometers
532 kilometers
2024-092C
59775
95.44 minutes
97.60 degrees
548 kilometers
532 kilometers
2024-092D
59776
95.52 minutes
97.60 degrees
552 kilometers
535 kilometers
2024-092E
59777
95.52 minutes
97.59 degrees
552 kilometers
536 kilometers
2024-092F
59778
95.52 minutes
97.60 degrees
552 kilometers
535 kilometers
2024-092G
59779
100.62 minutes
98.59 degrees
796 kilometers
780 kilometers
2024-092H
59780
100.62 minutes
98.60 degrees
796 kilometers
780 kilometers
2024-092J
59781
100.62 minutes
98.59 degrees
796 kilometers
780 kilometers

The Fregat then deorbited over the Indian Ocean, while Roskosmos identified one newly launched satellite as Kosmos-2576.

Surprisingly, on May 20, 2024, or three days after launch, Moscow-based Buro 1440 company (INSIDER CONTENT) announced that three of its Rassvet-2 satellites were launched on the mission and successfully operated in orbit. By May 20, the US Space Force catalogued the 10th object associated with the May 17 launch, designated Object K:

ID
NORAD ID
Orbital period
Inclination
Perigee
Apogee
2024-092A
59773
93.43 minutes
97.25 degrees
451 kilometers
435 kilometers
2024-092B
59774
95.44 minutes
97.59 degrees
548 kilometers
532 kilometers
2024-092C
59775
95.43 minutes
97.60 degrees
548 kilometers
531 kilometers
2024-092D
59776
95.52 minutes
97.59 degrees
550 kilometers
537 kilometers
2024-092E
59777
95.51 minutes
97.60 degrees
552 kilometers
535 kilometers
2024-092F
59778
95.51 minutes
97.60 degrees
552 kilometers
535 kilometers
2024-092G
59779
100.62 minutes
98.60 degrees
796 kilometers
780 kilometers
2024-092H
59780
100.62 minutes
98.61 degrees
796 kilometers
780 kilometers
2024-092J
59781
100.62 minutes
98.60 degrees
796 kilometers
780 kilometers
2024-092K
59809
95.51 minutes
97.59 degrees
552 kilometers
535 kilometers

Also on May 20, 2024, during deliberations in the UN Security Council over a resolution on the prevention of arms race in space, a US representative Robert Wood said that the Russian launch on May 17 had likely delivered a counterspace weapon presumed to be capable of attacking other satellites. A US representative said that the Russian spacecraft had been launched into orbit approaching a US government satellite. According to Robert Christy, a UK-based satellite tracker, the orbital plane of Kosmos-2576 was timed to match that of the American USA-314 military satellite, which is believed to be the KH-11 Advanced Crystal reconnaissance spacecraft launched in 2021.

Dr. Marco Langbroek noted that the orbital inclination of Kosmos-2576 after launch had a 0.8-degree difference from that of USA-314. At the same time, their RAAN points or the Right Ascension of the Ascending Node, (the Equator crossing points from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere) differed only by 0.02 degree. (That meant that Kosmos-2576 was most likely intentionally launched into an orbit that would allow close passes from USA-314.)

At the same time, the Russian satellite was in a 436 by 451-kilometer orbit or considerably below the 769 by 548-kilometer orbit of its apparent US target. At the same time, Kosmos-2576 had similar orbital parameters to those of a previous suspected Russian inspector or an anti-satellite experiment mission — Kosmos-2558.

On June 10, 2024, after a period of seemingly passive flight, which saw slow decay of its orbit, Kosmos-2576 boosted its perigee (the lowest point) by estimated 1.3 kilometers. At least two more discernable maneuvers took place between June 11 and June 13, 2024, placing the satellite into a 442 by 454-kilometer orbit.

At the same time, here were also indications that other payloads in the May 17, 2024, launch had performed small maneuvers. Object J appeared to equalize its altitude with that of Object G.

 

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: June 13, 2024

Page editor: Alain Chabot

All rights reserved

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pad

Soyuz-2 rockets being prepared for launch in Plesetsk in April 2024. Click to enlarge.


Obzor

A Soyuz rocket ascends to orbit on May 17, 2024. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos