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Ukraine Invasion Led to Significant Reduction in Russian Orbital Launches, Left Nation’s Space Program Isolated

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 7, 2022
Soyuz-2 rocket launches a military satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. (Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

While the United States and China have combined for 94 of the 114 orbital launches conducted through Wednesday, Russia finds itself a distant third with only 12 launches with fewer than four months left in the year. It’s a humbling experience for a country that once led the world in launches.

While aging boosters, launch failures and strong foreign competition have been the main causes of the Russian launch industry’s decade-long decline, the nation’s invasion of Ukraine in February has put a serious dent in this year’s launch total. Seven launches for European customers were canceled, including a joint mission to land a rover on Mars. A program with Europe’s Arianespace to launch Soyuz boosters on commercial missions was suspended indefinitely.

Relations with Europe, United States, Japan and Canada — Russia’s partners on the International Space Station (ISS) — have been badly damaged by the invasion. Russia finds itself more isolated than it has been since the end of the Cold War 30 years ago. The nation’s space program has turned to a rising China for cooperation on future programs.

Let’s take a closer look at Russia’s less than stellar year in spaceflight through the first eight months of 2022.

Soyuz-2 rocket launches 34 OneWeb broadband satellites from the Guiana Space Center. (Credit: Copyright ESA-CNES-Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG – P Piron)

Russian Launches
2022: 12-0 (through Sept. 7)
2021: 24-0-1

The Russian military conducted seven of the nation’s 12 launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Roscosmos launched four times from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Arianespace conducted the launch of a Russian Soyuz ST-B rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

Russian Launches
Jan. 1 – Sept. 7, 2022

Company/AgencyLaunch Vehicle(s)Payload(s)Launch SiteNotesLaunches
Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (RVSN RF)Soyuz 2.1a, Soyuz 2.1b, Soyuz-2.1v, Angara 1.22 reconnaissance, 1 defense communications, 1 navigation, 1 satellite inspection, 1 signal intelligencePlesetskMaiden launch of Angara1.2; Kosmos 2558 satellite inspection spacecraft closely following USA-326 (NROL-87); MKA EMKA №3 reconnaissance satellite might have failed in orbit6
RoscosmosSoyuz-2.1a, Soyuz-2.1b1 Soyuz crew & 2 Progress cargo launches to ISS, 1 rideshare with 17 payloads, 10 secondary satellites on ProgressBaikonurHighest number of Russian satellites launched on one rocket4
Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS)Soyuz-2.1aReconnaissancePlesetsk1
ArianespaceSoyuz ST-B34 OneWeb broadbandEurope’s Spaceport, French Guiana13th and final Soyuz launch of OneWeb satellites1

Roscosmos launched a new crew to ISS aboard the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft as well as two Progress resupply ships amid Russian threats to pull out of the program over Western sanctions imposed over the Ukraine invasion.

The Angara 1.2 rocket made a successful maiden flight on April 29 when it delivered the MKA EMKA №3 (Kosmos-2555) reconnaissance satellite into orbit. While the launch appeared to have been a success, observers have not seen any indication the spacecraft has adjusted its orbit. The satellite might have died on orbit.

Angara 1.2 is capable of delivering 3,800 kg (8,378 lb) into a 200-km (124-mile) high orbit. The launch came nearly eight years after a modified version of the rocket named Angara 1.2PP made a successful suborbital flight test.

A Soyuz-2.1v rocket is launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. (Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense)

Satellites Launched

Russia have launched 71 spacecraft this year, with 63 of them on only four launches. A Soyuz ST-B orbited 34 OneWeb broadband satellites, and a Soyuz-2.1b launches 17 spacecraft on a rideshare mission. A pair of Progress resupply ships carried 10 small satellites for deployment from the space station.

The Soyuz-2.1b rideshare mission included six satellites for technology demonstrations, five for Earth observation, two for navigation, two for electromagnetic radiation research, one for magnetospheric research, and one for space farming.

The Iranian Space Agency’s Khayyam Earth observation satellite was on the rideshare launch. Western experts questioned whether that was the true purpose of the spacecraft. They expressed concerns that Russia would use the spacecraft to aid its invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

Russia’s military satellites included three for reconnaissance and one apiece for signal intelligence, satellite inspection, communications and navigation. The inspection satellite is reported to be closely shadowing the USA-326 (NROL-87) spacecraft operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Eight of the 10 small satellites carried by Progress resupply ships were focused on technology demonstrations. The other two payloads were amateur radio satellites.

Rupture of Relations with Europe

A Russian Soyuz ST-B rocket launched 34 OneWeb broadband satellites on Feb. 10. It was the 13th Soyuz rocket to carry OneWeb satellites. It was also the first of seven planned Soyuz launches that would have completed deployment of OneWeb’s 648-satellite constellation later in the year.

The plan foundered when Russia invaded Ukraine two weeks later. Russia demanded that London-based OneWeb give assurances that the constellation would not be used for military purposes in order to launch a batch of 36 broadband satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 5. It also demanded that the UK government, which imposed sanctions on Russia over the invasion, divest its ownership of OneWeb.

The demands were widely viewed as a poison pill designed to scupper the launch. OneWeb has been actively marketing itself to Western military services. The UK government invested $500 million to help bail the company out of bankruptcy in 2021. The government sees OneWeb as a strategic asset in the wake of being cut off from the European Union’s satellite programs in the wake of the nation’s decision to leave the union.

After OneWeb and the British government refused the demands, Roscosmos removed the Soyuz rocket from the launch pad at Baikonur and took OneWeb’s satellites off the booster. Russia kept the satellites and said the company would not receive a refund of the money it paid for the launches.

OneWeb reached an agreement with SpaceX to complete deployment of the constellation using Falcon 9 rockets. Those flights are scheduled for later this year. OneWeb also announced an agreement with NewSpace India Ltd. to launch broadband satellites on the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III.

In September, OneWeb announced it had taken a $229 million write down as a result of the canceled Soyuz launches and 36 lost satellites.

Arianespace, which oversees OneWeb launches, suspended cooperation with Russia on subsequent Soyuz launches as a result of European sanctions imposed on Russia.

ExoMars orbiter and rover (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

Mars Mission Deferred

In March, the European Space Agency (ESA) canceled plans to launch the joint European-Russian ExoMars mission aboard a Proton rocket in September. The launch would have placed the Rosalind Franklin rover on the surface of the Red Planet.

ESA is now looking for a new ride to Mars as well as a replacement for the Russian-supplied landing platform. With favorable launch windows occurring only every two years, the launch of the rover will likely occur no earlier than 2028.

ESA has suspended cooperation with Russia on virtually every joint program other than ISS. Many of ESA’s member nations have also suspended cooperation with Russia on space projects in response to national and European Union sanctions.

Pictured from left are the Soyuz MS-19 crew spacecraft and the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module with the Prichal docking module attached as the International Space Station orbited 266 miles above the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia. (Credits: NASA)

ISS Flights

ISS flights continued as scheduled despite tensions with the West and repeated Russian threats to leave the program. Roscosmos launched one three-member crew and two Progress resupply ships to the space station during the first eight months of the year. One Soyuz spacecraft and a Progress vehicle also departed the station.

Russian International Space Station Launches & Departures
Jan. 1 – Sept. 7, 2022

DateLaunch VehicleSpacecraftPurposeCrew
Feb. 15, 2022Soyuz-2.1aProgress MS-19ISS resupplyNone
March 18, 2022Soyuz-2.1aSoyuz MS-21ISS crewOleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, Sergey Korsakov
March 30, 2022Soyuz MS-19ISS crew returnAnton Shkoplerov, Pyotr Dubrov, Mark Vande Hei
June 1, 2022Progress MS-18Resupply ship departure (launched Oct. 28, 2021)None
June 3, 2022Soyuz-2.1aProgress MS-20ISS resupplyNone

Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov were launched to the space station aboard the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft on March 18. They joined a seven-member crew that included: Russian cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov; NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and Mark Vande Hei; and ESA astronaut Matthias Mauer.

Soyuz MS-21 crew members aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: Roscosmos webcast)

Dubrov, Shkaplerov and Vande Hei departed the space station aboard Soyuz MS-19 on March 30. Dubrov and Vande Hei had spent nearly a year — 355 days — on ISS while Shkaplerov had been there for 176 days. Dubrov and Vande Hei were to have returned to Earth in October 2021 after a six-month mission, but Roscosmos changed the schedule while they were in orbit to accommodate a special project.

On Oct. 5, 2021, Shkaplerov flew film director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild to the station where they filmed scenes for a motion picture named, “The Challenge.” Shkaplerov stayed aboard while Shipenko and Peresild returned to Earth with cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky on Soyuz MS-18 after 12 days in space.

Russia launched the Progress MS-19 and Progress MS-20 resupply ships with 10 small satellites aboard in February and June, respectively.

Soyuz-2 launch (Credit: Roscosmos)

Launches by Spaceport

Plesetsk hosted seven military launches. Roscosmos launched four times from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with one other launch occurring in French Guiana.

Russian Launches by Spaceport
Jan. 1 – Sept. 7, 2022

Launch SiteCountryLaunch Vehicle(s)Launches
PlesetskRussiaSoyuz-2.1a (3), Soyuz-2.1b (2), Soyuz-2.1v (1), Angara-1.2 (1)7
BaikonurKazakhstanSoyuz-2.1a (3), Soyuz-2.1b (1)4
Europe’s SpaceportFrench GuianaSoyuz ST-B1

There have been no launches this year from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. Wikipedia list of launches shows a Soyuz-2.1b rocket launching four satellites from Vostochny on Oct. 22.

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