May 24, 2016

Russian Earth observing satellite delivered to orbit

A Soyuz rocket lifts off at 1856 GMT (2:56 p.m. EDT) with the Resurs P3 Earth observation satellite. Credit: TsENKI TV
A Soyuz rocket lifts off at 1856 GMT (2:56 p.m. EDT) with the Resurs P3 Earth observation satellite. Credit: TsENKI TV

A day after a rare last-minute abort by its Soyuz launcher, a sharp-eyed civilian-operated Russian Earth observation satellite blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday on a five-year mission, giving Russia a fleet of three advanced digital imaging spacecraft in orbit.

The Resurs P3 satellite launched at 1856 GMT (2:56 p.m. EDT) from the historic launch base in Kazakhstan.

The satellite’s Soyuz booster steered north from Baikonur, and dropped its four first stage engines about two minutes after liftoff. A core engine — called the second stage — and a third stage propulsion system delivered the Resurs P3 satellite to a preliminary orbit about 9 minutes, 21 seconds into the flight, according to a statement by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

The launch of Resurs P3 was supposed to occur Saturday, but an automatic abort triggered moments before ignition of the Soyuz rocket’s engines halted the countdown. Such launch scrubs late in the countdown are rare for the workhorse Soyuz booster, which usually launches more often than any other rocket in the world.

Sunday’s Soyuz launch came less than a day before a Proton rocket is due to lift off from a different sector of the expansive cosmodrome with an ambitious European-led Mars mission named ExoMars.

The Soyuz rocket was to have placed Resurs P3 into a preliminary elliptical parking orbit ranging between 200 and 475 kilometers (120 miles to 295 miles) in altitude.

Resurs P3 will fire an on-board propulsion system to reach a circular orbit 477 kilometers (296 miles) up — completing one lap around Earth every 94 minutes — and begin its planned five-year mission from that vantage point.

The Resurs P3 satellite pictured before launch. Credit: Roscosmos
The Resurs P3 satellite pictured before launch. Credit: Roscosmos

Made by TsSKB Progress, a company based in Samara, Russia, the 5,730-kilogram (12,632-pound) Resurs P3 satellite hosts a suite of digital cameras.

One is tuned to image the Earth in 96 spectral bands, obtaining details on metrics such as crop yield, vegetation health, microbial activity in water, and assessing the impacts of invasive insects on agriculture.

A telephoto camera with a focal length of 4,000 millimeters will take the highest-resolution images.

Resurs P3 will collect black-and-white imagery with a resolution of 1 meter, or 3.3 feet, and analysts will resolve objects as small as 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) across in color pictures.

Russian government agencies responsible for agriculture, the environment, emergency situations, fisheries, meteorology and cartography will be consumers of data from Resurs P3, which will join two similar satellites — named Resurs P1 and Resurs P2 — launched in June 2013 and December 2014.

Data from the Resurs satellites aid in disaster response, help authorities update maps, track pollution, track ice in maritime shipping lanes, and detect fields of illegal drugs, according to TsSKB Progress.

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