Russian weather satellite deployed in geostationary orbit

A Proton rocket climbs away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Feb. 5 with the Electro Credit: Roscosmos

Russia launched a geostationary weather satellite Feb. 5 on a Proton rocket, heading for a position more than 22,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean to cover Russia’s Far East and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

The Elektro-L 4 weather satellite lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:12:52 a.m. EST (0912:52 GMT; 2:12 p.m. Baikonur time), riding a Proton booster into a foggy sky over the snow-covered spaceport in Central Asia.

The Proton rocket, built by the Russian contractor Khrunichev, fired its six hydrazine-fueled RD-276 main engines to climb off the launch pad at Baikonur with 2.5 million pounds of thrust. Heading northeast, the Proton shut off its first stage engines two minutes into the flight, then shed the booster stage to fall back to the ground.

Engine firings by the Proton rocket’s second and third stages continued powering the mission into space, then a Block DM upper stage, made by Energia, took over for three burns over the course of more than six hours to send the Elektro-L 4 weather satellite into a circular geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 0.6 degrees to the equator.

The Block DM upper stage deployed the Elektro-L 4 weather satellite into an on-target orbit, according to Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. U.S. military tracking data indicated the satellite was flying in the expected orbit, confirming a successful launch.

Designed for a 10-year lifetime and built by the Russian aerospace contractor NPO Lavochkin, the Elektro-L 4 satellite follows three previous Elektro-L weather observatories launched in 2011, 2015, and 2019. The first of the Elektro-L weather satellites failed halfway through its 10-year mission in 2016.

The new satellite was expected to unfurl its power-generating solar panels and fine-tune its orbit over the equator, where its speed will match the rate of Earth’s rotation, giving the new weather sentinel a constant view of Russia’s Far East, the Asia-Pacific region, and much of the Pacific Ocean.

The Elektro-L 4’s planned observation post will be over the equator at 165.8 degrees east longitude.

The first two Elektro-L satellites launched from Kazakhstan on Ukrainian-made Zenit rockets. But officials switched the launch of the Elektro-L 3 spacecraft to a Russian-built Proton rocket due to rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The fourth Elektro-L satellite also launched on a Russian Proton rocket.

Artist’s illustration of an Elektro-L weather satellite in orbit. Credit: Roscosmos

The Elektro-L satellites provide weather data to the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, or Roshydromet, Russia’s weather agency.

Like its three predecessors, the Elektro-L 4 satellite will capture images of storm systems and clouds across its coverage zone. The spacecraft will also measure sea states and ocean temperatures, track changes in snow cover, and collect high-altitude atmospheric data to help forecast conditions for air travel.

Roscosmos said the Elektro-L satellites can capture images of storms and clouds with a frequency of 10 to 30 minutes, including tropical regions where typhoons and hurricanes form. The satellite also carries instruments to monitor space weather and a search-and-rescue communications payload, according to information published by Roscosmos.

The launch Feb. 5 was the first by a Russian rocket this year, and the 428th flight of a Proton rocket since 1965. Russia plans to phase out the Proton rocket in the next few years.

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