Soyuz-2.1a returns to flights with a secret military mission from Plesetsk

On June 5, 2015, Russian Aerospace Defence Forces (VKO) conducted successful launch of Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle with a secret military spacecraft, reportedly of Kobalt-M series, into a low Earth orbit from Plesetsk spaceport in Russia.

Launch of Soyuz-2.1a from Plesetsk. Credit: TV Zvezda
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This launch has become the first one after failed Progress M-27M mission that was launched also atop a Soyuz-2.1a rocket on April 28. Then, 'design peculiarities of joint exploitation of cargo spaceship and launcher, related to their frequency and dynamic characteristics', were named as the failure cause.

Kobalt-M spacecraft represents a unique film-return variant of Russian reconnaissance satellites. It consists of a reignitable service module with two solar arrays, a large conical reentry vehicle with a camera, and two small spherical reentry vehicles. Spacecraft's launch mass is near 6,700 kg, operational lifetime up to 5 month, and camera's ground resolution about 30 cm.

We have established and are maintaining continuous connection with the spacecraft. Telemetry shows that all on-board systems are operating as expected. Dmitry Zenin, representative of Russian Aerospace Defence Forces

Likely the last one of its series, Kobalt-M was launched into almost perpendicular to equator orbit, which will allow it to film nearly all Earth's surface. Upon termination of its service, it will release reentry vehicles with physical imaging data. The latter are expected to land softly by means of parachutes somewhere on the territory of Russia.

Up to this mission Russia has used this old-fashioned way of reconnaissance, believing it is the most reliable and simple one, despite optical-electric satellites have already widely used by many space powers for rather long time. Nevertheless, Kobalt-M will finally be replaced by optical-electric Persona-M spy spacecraft, the nearest mission of which is also scheduled for June atop Soyuz-2.1b launcher.

Kobalt-M spacecraft. Credit:
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Question of reliability of Soyuz-2.1a rockets, raised again after Progress M-27M mission failure, has become a serious challenge for Russian space authorities, forcing them to postpone not only military and civil missions, but also those serving the International Space Station (ISS).

Thus, several months behind the schedule, Expedition 42/43 to the ISS is now expected to return on Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-15M manned spaceship on June 11, and launch of the next cargo resupply mission of Progress M-28M spaceship currently scheduled for July 3.

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