The Best Laid Plans, Moscow Edition: Ukraine Invasion Damages Russia’s Launch Business

Soyuz-2 rocket launches a military satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. (Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ambitious launch schedules typically go awry when a rocket suffers a catastrophic failure that takes months to investigate and implement modifications to ensure the same accident doesn’t happen again. In the majority of cases, the failures involve a machine launching a machine. All that can be replaced, albeit at substantial cost.

Russia’s ambitious launch plans for 2022 fell apart due to a far more momentous and deadly action: the nation’s invasion of Ukraine. The decision ruptured cooperation with the West on virtually every space project on which it was safe to do so. The main exception was the International Space Station (ISS), a program involving astronauts and cosmonauts that would be difficult to operate safely if Russia suddenly withdrew (as it indeed threatened to do).

Due to the invasion, Western partners canceled seven launches of foreign payloads in less than a month. The cancellations put Russia even further behind the United States and China in launch totals this year.

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The Best Laid Plans: Europe’s Ambitious Launch Year Goes Awry Due to International Tensions, Schedule Delays

The James Webb Space Telescope lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, at 13:20 CET on 25 December 2021 on its exciting mission to unlock the secrets of the Universe. (Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Christmas Day 2021, an European Ariane 5 rocket roared off its launch pad in French Guiana with the most expensive payload the booster had ever carried, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. The launcher performed perfectly, sending the most powerful space telescope on a journey to its final destination 1.5 million km (900 million miles) from Earth. The launch was so accurate that Webb should have sufficient propellant to perform science operations for much longer than its planned 10-year lifetime.

There was a collective sigh of relief among the European, American and Canadian scientists and engineers involved in the long-delayed program. It was a superb Christmas gift to a world suffering through the second year of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

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77 Launches Conducted During First Half of 2022 as Access to Orbit Expanded

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites while the Dragon that will carry Crew-4 to the International space Station awaits its turn. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a busy first half of 2022 that saw 77 orbital launches with 74 successes and three failures through the 182nd day of the year on July 1. At a rate of one launch every 2 days 8 hours 44 minutes, the world is on track to exceed the 146 launches conducted in 2021.

A number of significant missions were launched during a period that saw more than 1,000 satellite launched. SpaceX flew the first fully commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing conducted an orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, China prepared to complete assembly of its space station, South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured rocket, and Rocket Lab sent a NASA mission to the moon.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

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Russia Holds OneWeb Satellites Hostage; No Launch Unless Company & British Government Meet Demands

Vladimir Putin receives a briefing from Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: Office of the Russian President)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In what is likely the first hostage drama involving communication satellites, the head of the Russian space program has demanded that the British government divest its shares in OneWeb and that the broadband satellite operator not provide services to foreign militaries in order to launch a new batch of spacecraft. The move comes amid growing tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed on the country by western nations.

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that unless these demands are met, Russia will refuse to launch 36 OneWeb satellites that sit atop a Soyuz-2.1b rocket currently on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch is scheduled for Saturday morning Moscow time.

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Russia Launches EKS 5 Early Warning Satellite

PLESETSK COSMODROME, Russia, 25 November 2021 (Ministry of Defence PR) — Launched today at 4:9 a.m. (Moscow time) from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk region, the Soyuz-2.1B medium-class launch vehicle successfully put the spacecraft into orbit at the set time in the interests of the Russian Defence Ministry.

All pre-launch operations and the launch of the Soyuz-2.1B space rocket (SR) took place in normal mode. The means of the ground-based automated control complex for spacecraft of the Russian orbital group controlled the launch and flight of the SR.

The ground-based means of the space forces of the Aerospace Forces took control of the spacecraft launched in the interests of the Russian Ministry of Defence. Stable telemetry communication has been established and maintained with the device, its onboard systems are functioning normally.

After taking control of the spacecraft, the serial number Cosmos-2552 was assigned.

In total, more than 40 ground-based measuring devices and more than 70 combat crews of the 15th army of the Aerospace Forces of special purpose were involved in ensuring the launch of the spacecraft of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Prichal Node Module Launched to International Space Station

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Roscosmos PR) — On Wednesday, November 24, 2021, at 13:06:35 UTC, the Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle with the Prichal Node Module within the Progress M-UM cargo spacecraft-module was successfully launched from Site 31 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. 563 seconds into the flight, it separated from the third stage of the carrier and deployed its solar panels and antennas.

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Soyuz-2.1b Launch Vehicle with 34 OneWeb Satellites Installed on Launch Pad at Baikonur

Soyuz rocket with OneWeb satellites aboard. (Credit: Yuzhny/Roscosmos)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Roscosmos PR) — The Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle with the Fregat upper stage and 34 OneWeb communications satellites was rolled out from the Assembly and Test Facility on Monday. The launch vehicle was installed on the launch pad of the Baikonur Сosmodrome, the launch is scheduled for Thursday, August 19, at 22:23 UTC.

Pre-launch activities are carried out under the contracts of Glavkosmos (a subsidiary of Roscosmos) with the European launch services provider Arianespace (the company operates launches of OneWeb spacecraft with the use of the Soyuz launch vehicle), and the company Starsem. The joint team of the foreign customers and the representatives of Roscosmos enterprises: Progress Space Rocket Center, Lavochkin Association, TsENKI and Glavkosmos, is carrying out these works.

Currently, the specialists at the spaceport are performing the technical operations. The pre-launch tests of the Soyuz-2.1b systems are being conducted, and the interfaces between the on-board instruments and ground equipment are being checked.

Now, the fleet of the OneWeb satellites in the low Earth orbit amounts to 254 spacecraft, and hundreds more are to be launched. The upcoming launch should bring the number of OneWeb spacecraft in orbit to 288. OneWeb low Earth orbit satellites are designed to provide consumers on the ground with high-speed Internet.

Russia Launches Arktika-M Meteorological Satellite to Monitor the Arctic

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — This morning, February 28, 2021 at 09:55:01 Moscow time, a successful launch of the Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Fregat upper stage and the Arktika-M spacecraft took place from the launch pad No. 31 of the Baikonur cosmodrome No. 1 on board. After 562 seconds, according to the processed telemetry information, the upper stage and payload separated from the third stage of the carrier in the normal mode.

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Russia Prepares to Launch OneWeb Satellites From its Spaceport of the Future

OneWeb satellites being prepared for launch aboard a Soyuz-2.1b booster from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia is preparing for launch number six from the troubled and little used Vostochny Cosmodrome in the nation’s Far East.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket is set to launch 36 OneWeb satellites on Dec. 18. The new batch of satellites will add to the 74 OneWeb spacecraft previously launched.

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