Russian space program in 2020
During a traditional meeting with the Russian president on the eve of Cosmonautics Day (which was conducted in the teleconference mode in on April 10, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic), Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin promised a total of 33 launches during the year, including 12 missions within the federal program and nine commercial launches, including three from French Guiana.
During the same event, Director General at ISS Reshetnev Nikolai Testoedov said that his company had planned to deliver a total of 10 spacecraft for launches in 2020. Two of them had already been launched (Meridian-M No. 19L and GLONASS-M No. 60), another two were at the launch site (Testoedov probably referred to Ekspress-80 and -103), while (6) others were either in storage or in manufacturing, Testoedov said. From his side, head of RKTs Progress Dmitry Baranov said that a fresh Soyuz launch vehicle would be shipped to Plesetsk in "coming days," likely for a military mission.
The world's orbital launch attempts in 2020 (as of September 29, 2020 ):
The 2020 space launch score card (as of September 29, 2020 ):
Planned Russian orbital launch attempts:
October 14, 08:45 Moscow Time: A Soyuz-2-1a rocket to launch the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft (production No. 747, ISS mission 63S) from Site 31 in Baikonur toward the International Space Station, ISS. The launch window should allow the mission to reach the station after a four-orbit rendezvous scenario and dock at the MIM1 Rassvet module, a part of the ISS' Russian Segment, around six hours after liftoff.
As of 2014, the Soyuz MS-17 launch was planned for September 13, 2020, but by the middle of 2019, the mission was re-scheduled for October 14. By that time, Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner were assigned to the crew and Roskosmos planned to add another cosmonaut to the mission, in order to increase the Russian crew aboard the ISS from two to three people, as planned in anticipation of the MLM Nauka module launch, which at the time was planned in December 2020, but was later delayed until May 2021.
Also, continuous delays with the introduction of new American crew vehicles, prompted NASA to negotiate a purchase of the third seat aboard Soyuz MS-17 for its astronaut Stephen Bowen. In case a US astronaut had to be assigned to the mission and the Nauka was ready for launch as planned at the end of 2020, Roskosmos would not have a large enough crew aboard the Russian Segment to receive and integrate the new module. But, anticipating another delay with Nauka, as early as the Fall of 2019, Roskosmos had already taken steps to support the module's arrival in 2021.
In early May 2020, a press-release from the Zhukovsky airport disclosed that Russian cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud'-Sverchkov had been selected as primary members of the Soyuz MS-17 crew, with Oleg Novitsky and Petr Dubrov as their backups. For its part, NASA added astronaut Kate Rubins to the primary crew and Mark T. Vande Hei to the backup crew.
Due to additional risk associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Roskosmos assigned cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Andrei Babkin to serve as another backup crew for the Soyuz MS-17 mission. The pair officially began their training on June 5, 2020.
In case of its launch on October 14, 2020, the Soyuz MS-17 would remain docked at the MIM1 Rassvet module until April 1, 2021. The spacecraft would then re-dock to the MIM2 Poisk module to make way for the arrival of Soyuz MS-18, then scheduled for launch on April 9, 2021. After the overlapping presence at the ISS of the two Russian crew vehicles, Soyuz MS-17 was scheduled to depart the station and land on April 17, 2021, after 185 days in space.
However, in the provisional flight manifest prepared by Roskosmos by the end of Summer 2020, the redocking date for the Soyuz MS-17 mission was advanced to March 10, 2021, and the landing date moved to April 9, 2021, preserving around a week-long overlap with the Soyuz MS-18 mission at the station, whose launch was advanced to April 1, 2021. As a result, the flight duration for the Soyuz-MS-17 crew was cut to 177 days.
The active campaign for the launch of Soyuz MS-17 started in Baikonur on August 4, when the spacecraft was taken out of storage and installed at its processing work site to begin processing starting with autonomous tests of various systems. Next, the spacecraft was placed into the vacuum chamber for leak checks which had been completed on September 18, 2020.
On September 23, solar panels of the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft were exposed to an array of electric lights to test their performance and at the same time, specialists completed the outfitting of the ship's Descent Module and the the preparation of personal crew equipment, RKK Energia announced.
After the completion of the formal training at Star City, the primary and backup crews departed for Baikonur on the morning of September 27, 2020, for familiarization training with the actual spacecraft which took place on September 28. The exercise included donning of the flight suits, their leak checks, review of flight equipment and flight program. On the same day, the meeting of the technical management cleared Soyuz MS-17 for loading of propellant components and pressurized gases and the spacecraft was delivered to the fueling facility at Site 31 the same evening. Fueling operations were scheduled to be completed by October 1 with the return of the spacecraft to its processing facility at Site 254.
Soyuz MS-17 arrived at the fueling facility in Baikonur on the evening of September 28, 2020.
October 17: A Soyuz ST-A/Fregat-M rocket (Mission VS24) to launch the Falcon Eye-2 reconnaissance satellite for the United Arab Emirates from Kourou, French Guiana. On March 15, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the French space agency, CNES, operating the Guiana Space Center, ordered to stop ongoing launch campaigns at the site and all unfinished construction. The only exception were the operations to bring the launch vehicles, payloads and facilities in safe condition and their monitoring.
On March 19, a Nordwind's Boeing-777-200 evacuated 246 Russian specialists from French Guiana to Moscow. A group of 21 people stayed longer to conduct drainage of maximum possible amount of propellant from the Fregat-M stage, so it could be stored without a supervision of the Russian team. As of early April, the launch of Falcon Eye-2 was tentatively scheduled for September 15, but by the middle of May, the launch was postponed until October 1, 2020, and, in June 2020, it was postponed until October 17.
As of April 10, the remaining Russian personnel was scheduled for evacuation from French Guiana between April 27 and April 30, 2020. On April 25, Roskosmos confirmed that the final group of nine specialists had landed at Moscow's Sheremetievo airport at 14:30 Moscow Time on that day.
October 17: A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat rocket to launch a GLONASS-K satellite from Plesetsk. Before the end of 2019, the launch was expected at the end of March 2020. By February 2020, the mission was planned for May and at the beginning of April, the launch was pushed to June 27, with the planned delivery of the satellite to the launch site in the middle of May 2020, RIA Novosti reported quoting unnamed sources. However, in the first half of May, the launch was postponed from June 27 to the middle of July due to delays with the manufacturing of the satellite, RIA Novosti said. In early July, it reported that the launch date had slipped to August 6, with the delivery of the satellite to the launch site before the end of the month. Around July 10, ISS Reshetnev released a video saying that the shipment of the spacecraft to the launch site would take place within days. But by the end of July, the launch slipped from August 6 until the end of August 2020, RIA Novosti reported. However by the middle of August, the launch was postponed until October 17, pushing it behind another Soyuz rocket mission with Gonets-M satellites.
November 6: A Soyuz-ST rocket with the Fregat upper stage to launch the CSO-2 military observation satellite for France from the ELS complex in Kourou, French Guiana. Because the Fregat upper stage originally intended for the CSO-2 launch was transferred to the preceding Falcon Eye-2 mission, the CSO-2 launch had to be postponed from April 10 to the second half of May 2020. According to the RIA Novosti news agency, the CSO-2 mission will receive the fresh Fregat upper stage originally intended for the OneWeb mission then planned at the end of 2020.
On March 15, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the French space agency, CNES, operating the Guiana Space Center, ordered to stop ongoing launch campaigns at the site and all unfinished construction. The only exception were the operations to bring the launch vehicles, payloads and facilities in safe condition and their monitoring.
On March 19, a Nordwind Boeing-777-200 evacuated 250 Russian specialists from French Guiana to Moscow. As of early April, the launch of CSO-1 was tentatively scheduled for October 15, 2020, but by the middle of May, 2020, the launch date was shifted to November 6, 2020.
December 11: A Soyuz-2-1a rocket to launch the Progress MS-16 cargo ship (production No. 445, ISS mission 77P) from Baikonur's Site 31 to the International Space Station, ISS. The vehicle was expected to fly a two-day rendezvous profile and dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module, SM, a part of the ISS' Russian Segment.
During the planning of the ISS launch manifest in the Fall of 2019, the Progress MS-16 mission was expected to last 220 days, but its December 11, 2020, launch date also put the cargo ship into the time frame for a potential back-up role as a "burial" vehicle for the Pirs Docking Compartment, SO1. The disposal operation would free the nadir (Earth-facing) docking port on the Zvezda Service Module, SM, for the arrival of the MLM Nauka module. The primary role to discard Pirs was at the time assigned to the Progress MS-15 mission, however a delay with the December 2020 launch of the Nauka could shift the responsibility for Pirs' disposal to Progress MS-16, because mission control wanted to keep Pirs at the station until the delivery of Nauka was imminent. To perform its disposal backup duty, Progress MS-16 would need a number of avionics for automated and manual control, which would have to be installed during its pre-launch processing in Baikonur. The exact launch date of Progress MS-16 was also subject to change depending on the status of the MLM launch (Insider Content). In case of its launch on December 11, Progress MS-16 would dock at Pirs on December 13 and would be ready to depart with the module on April 23, 2021, just three days after the launch of Nauka. Progress MS-16 and Pirs would be deorbited on the day of their undocking from the ISS.
However, according to the preliminary version of the ISS flight manifest drafted by Roskosmos at the end of August 2020, the task of discarding Pirs was still assigned to Progress MS-15, while Progress MS-16 would be docked to the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module for the mission concluding in mid-March 2021, after just 96 days in orbit.
December 24: A Soyuz-2.1b rocket to launch the 2,100-kilogram Arktika-M No. 1 remote-sensing satellite into a highly elliptical 12-hour orbit (perigee: 800-2,500 kilometers, inclination: 62.8-63.5 degrees) from Baikonur. The constellation is designed to monitor high-altitude areas of the Earth. The spacecraft is to be based on the Elektro weather-forecasting satellite. In 2008, the first pair of Arktika-M satellites was expected to fly in 2013. (299), but by December 2010, the mission slipped to 2014. (442) By 2012, the first launch was promised in 2015 and the second in 2016. In the middle of 2015, the launch was postponed from 2016 to 2017. By the beginning 2018, the launch was promised in 2019, but by the middle of that year, the mission was not expected to liftoff before 2020. The launch was then planned for the third or fourth quarter of 202o and early in 2020, it was set for December 9 of that year. On September 14, RIA Novosti reported that the launch had been postponed until December 24.
Soyuz-2-1b lifts off from Baikonur with 34 OneWeb satellites on February 7, 2020. Click to enlarge. Credit: Arianespace
Soyuz lifts off with 34 OneWeb satellites on March 21, 2020. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
The Arktika satellite could be based on the Elektro weather-forecasting satellite. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress MS-15 lifts off on July 23, 2020. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos