Russian military launches new missile warning satellite

Russia’s military successfully deployed a spacecraft in orbit Nov. 25 to join a constellation of satellites circling the globe to monitor for missile launches.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket and Fregat upper stage lifted the military payload into orbit from the snow-covered Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Launch occurred at 0109 GMT on Nov. 25 (8:09 p.m. EST on Nov. 24), according to a statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The Soyuz rocket’s four first stage boosters fired two minutes, followed by jettison of the rocket’s core stage at the five-minute mark. A third stage engine burned next to place the Fregat upper stage and the Russian military payload on a suborbital trajectory.

The Fregat upper stage ignited its main engine multiple times to place its satellite payload into the targeted orbit, and the spacecraft separated from the Fregat space tug several hours after liftoff.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not identify the purpose of the payload, but the circumstances of the mission — including the trajectory southeast from Plesetsk after launch — suggest the satellite is likely the fifth in a line of EKS, or Tundra, missile warning satellites for the Russian military.

The spacecraft received the name Kosmos 2552, keeping with the Russian naming convention for military satellites.

Orbital tracking data from the U.S. military showed the Kosmos 2552 spacecraft circling Earth in an elongated orbit ranging in altitude between 1,018 miles (1,638 kilometers) and 23,936 miles (38,522 kilometers), with an inclination of 63.8 degrees to the equator.

The orbit, known as a Molniya-type orbit, matches the altitude and inclination of four previous EKS satellite launches in 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2020.

Russia uses the missile warning satellites, along with ground-based radars, to track missiles that approach the country’s territory. The Molniya-type orbits used by the EKS satellites give the spacecraft’s thermal infrared sensors long views over the northern hemisphere on each 12-hour loop around Earth.

The orbits provide the satellites the ability to detect missile launches from North America, and detect incoming missiles that threaten Russian territory.

The launch of the fifth EKS early warning satellite marked the second blastoff of a Soyuz rocket in 12 hours, a half-day after a Soyuz launcher took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with a new module heading for the International Space Station.

It was the 20th orbital launch of a Russian-built rocket this year.

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