Successful launch of Soyuz-2.1b with a Russian military spacecraft from Plesetsk

On June 23, 2015, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces (VKO) conducted successful launch of Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle with a secret military spacecraft, reportedly of Persona series, into a near-polar orbit from Plesetsk spaceport in Russia.

The launch has become the second mission for VKO in a month, after successful launch of Soyuz-2.1a with a Kobalt-M satellite, conducted on June 5. Also, VKO conducted launch on February 27, when Soyuz-2.1a orbited new Russia's Bars-M series of mapping spacecraft. This time it is believed that the third electro-optical reconnaissance spacecraft of Persona series, capable of transmitting high-resolution Earth images during a period of at least 7 years, was orbited.

Soyuz-2.1b lifts-off from Plesetsk. Credit: Russian MoD
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SEN informs that the most sophisticated reconnaissance satellite in Russia's current space arsenal, Persona was built by Progress Space Center, the nation's prime developer of remote sensing spacecraft. A powerful telescope provided by St. Petersburg-based LOMO company for the 7-ton spacecraft can reportedly capture details as small as half a meter.

Resulting digital images can be either stored in the satellite's computer or immediately be transmitted to Earth. To enable that, the spacecraft also equipped with laser transmitters working via special relay satellites in a geostationary orbit. Notably, the launch of one such relay satellite was originally scheduled to precede the latest Persona, however it had to be postponed due to the failure of Proton rocket occurred in May.

Resurs-P civil Earth imaging satellite, reportedly similar to Persona series of spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos
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The first Persona spacecraft, and simultaneously the first Russian optical reconnaissance satellite operating from a sun-synchronous orbit, was launched in July 2008 on Soyuz-2.1b rocket from Plesetsk. It reportedly malfunctioned in February 2009 due to a failure in electronic components.

The second Persona satellite was successfully orbited in June 2013, also by a Soyuz-2.1b launcher. Although Persona-2 spacecraft was believed to suffer from failure of memory capacity on an on-board computer, necessitating to bring back the older film-return Kobalt-M satellites into service to bridge the gap, in 2014 the satellite was reactivated and a new software was uploaded.

Due to the limited availability of some critical components of imaging payload, Persona will likely be replaced after this third mission by a second-generation Persona spacecraft, or a new developed series of Russia's military imaging satellites.

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