Russian spy satellite lofted
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: July 21, 2006
Russia launched a new military satellite into orbit today from the nation's northern space base. The cargo could be an early warning spacecraft to alert Russian forces of foreign missile launches.
The Molniya-M rocket lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome near the Arctic Circle at 0420 GMT (12:20 a.m. EDT). It took 56 minutes for the four stage booster to finish its role in the mission by releasing its payload at 0516 GMT (1:16 a.m. EDT), the Russian news agency Novosti reported.
The satellite is expected to operate in a highly elliptical orbit carrying it to a high point of just under 25,000 miles from Earth, a low point of just over 300 miles, and an inclination of about 63 degrees. This type of orbit allows spacecraft to linger at high altitude above areas of interest for up to several hours. Molniya rockets can deliver up to 4,500 pounds to such orbits.
Russian defense officials renamed the craft Kosmos 2422 upon reaching orbit safely, but experts believe the secret satellite is likely an Oko-class spacecraft designed to monitor missile launches from foreign territory.
This morning's launch was the first for the Molniya rocket since a failure in June 2005 resulted in the loss of the booster and its cargo. Telemetry data from the vehicle indicated the third stage did not ignite and burn as planned, causing the rocket and satellite to crash in Siberia.
The Molniya rocket is heavily based on the Soyuz family, a mainstay in the Russian space program for almost 50 years. A dozen Soyuz derivatives had flown since last year's accident before today's successful launch.
The launch was also the 30th mission to reach orbit so far this year, and the second from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.