On March 31, 2015, Russian Aerospace Defence Forces (‘VKO’) conducted successful launch of Rockot launch vehicle with three Gonets-M communications satellites into a low Earth orbit (LEO) from Plesetsk spaceport in Russia.
This was the 23rd orbital mission for Rockot, a derivative rocket from UR-100N (SS-19 'Stiletto') intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The mission orbited the 11th, 12th, and 13th spacecraft in existing Gonets LEO satellite constellation.Built by ISS Reshetnev under the contract with Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), 'Gonets Leosat System' (as it is named at the official website) is operated by Gonets Satellite Company JSC. With the latest launched satellites, Gonets orbital constellation now consists of 12 new-generation Gonets-M and 1 'old' Gonets-D1 spacecraft.
Gonets-M spacecraft weighs near 280 kg, carries 14 transponders, and has a lifetime of 5 to 7 years. It is supposed that Gonets constellation that consists of 24 orbiting spacecraft will provide continuous communication services over the whole territory of Russia. Video of 12 orbiting Gonets spacecraft constellation in action is below:
It was reported that a secretive military spacecraft for the Russian government was launched along with 3 Gonets satellites. Some sources named it Kosmos 2504 and indicated that such small spacecraft usually have been used for performance of orbital rendezvous and inspection maneuvers.Interesting to note that recently LEO comsat constellations have become an industrial trend. At least 3 companies have announced plans to launch hundreds of LEO-orbiting spacecraft in the next years in order to provide Internet and telecommunications services for 'the other 3 billion unconnected people in the world'. These are OneWeb, LeoSat, and future SpaceX' constellation.