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Russian military craft launched by Soyuz rocket

Posted: May 4, 2011

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A Soyuz rocket deployed a Russian communications satellite Wednesday in a high-altitude orbit stretching nearly 25,000 miles above Earth to link ships, aircraft and other military forces over the Arctic.

The Soyuz rocket lifted off at 1741 GMT (1:41 p.m. EDT) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a military-run launching base in northern Russia's Arkhangelsk oblast. The launcher flew in the Soyuz 2-1a configuration with a digital control system and an enlarged nose shroud.

Liftoff occurred at 9:41 p.m. Moscow time.

A Fregat upper stage fired three times to place the Meridian communications satellite in an elliptical orbit stretching from a low point of 620 miles to a high point of 24,700 miles. The orbital inclination was 62.8 degrees.

The rocket released the payload at 1959 GMT (3:59 p.m. EDT), according to the Novosti news agency. The reports indicated the spacecraft was in good health following launch.

This high-altitude perch, commonly called a Molniya orbit, allows satellites to stay in view of Russian territory for several hours during each circuit around the planet. Satellites in this type of orbit cover polar regions, areas out of reach of many traditional communications spacecraft in equatorial orbits.

The Meridian communications satellite will link terrestrial military forces, ground stations, aircraft and ships with command and control centers. The craft launched Wednesday is the fourth Meridian satellite launched by Russia since 2006.

Built by ISS Reshetnev, a Russian space contractor, the Meridian satellites are replacements for Molniya communications satellites covering high latitude regions of Russia.