Soyuz-2-1v launches military satellite
Russia's light-weight rocket lifted off from Plesetsk on Aug. 1, 2022, delivering a classified payload designated Kosmos-2558. This was the eighth mission for the Soyuz-2-1v launch vehicle since its introduction in 2013.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifts off on Aug. 1, 2022.
The Russian government released no advanced information about the payload of the upcoming launch, but on July 22, the authorities issued advisories to avoid two areas in the Barents Sea along the ground track associated with the launch attempt planned between August 1 and 5, 2022. The launch vehicle with the satellite was rolled out to the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022.
The eighth Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifted off on Aug. 1, 2022, at 23:25:48.401 Moscow Time, from Pad 4 at Site 43 in Plesetsk and apparently followed a standard ascent profile seen in several previous missions to a near-polar orbit with an inclination 97.4 degrees toward the Equator.
After a few seconds in vertical ascent, the vehicle headed almost exactly north, under the power of a single NK-33 main engine and the four thrusters of the RD-0110 steering engine. Lacking the four strap-on boosters of its predecessors in the Soyuz family of rockets, Soyuz-2-1v relied solely on a modified core booster as its first stage.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifts off on Aug. 1, 2022.
Following the first-stage ascent, the second stage took over the powered flight around two minutes into the flight. It fired its four-chamber engine moments before the separation of the first stage, thanks to a lattice structure connecting the two boosters, which allows free flow of the exhaust from the second-stage engine above. Right after the separation of the first stage, the tail section of the second stage split in three segments and fell away.
Both the first stage and the fragments of the tail section were to splash down in the Barents Sea, north of Murmansk.
As the second stage continued to thrust, the payload fairing protecting the secret satellite split in two halves and also separated. Its fragments were to fall into the Arctic Ocean, south of the Spitsbergen Archipelago.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Volga upper stage and its payload separated from the second stage of the launch vehicle at 23:34 Moscow Time.
Upon the completion of the second stage firing, the Volga upper stage and its payload entered an initial parking orbit. All further maneuvers to insert the satellite into its final orbit were conducted with the help of Volga's main engine in the next 1.5 hours. After releasing its payload, the Volga upper stage performed a deorbiting maneuver over the Pacific Ocean.
On the morning of Aug. 2, 2022, the Russian military announced that Volga had successfully released the spacecraft, designated Kosmos-2558, into its planned orbit and that the satellite was under control of ground assets of the Air and Space Forces, VKS.
According to Western satellite observers, the Russian launch took place exactly when the orbital plane of the classified American satellite, USA-326, was passing over Plesetsk. Because it could hardly be a coincidence, observers assumed that the Russian mission would be chasing and inspecting the American payload, like several previous Russian satellites of that type had done in the past. The USA-326 satellite was launched on a Falcon-9 rocket for the National Reconnaissance Office, NRO, on Feb. 2, 2022, into a 512-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.4 degrees toward the Equator. USA-326 was also known to release a sub-satellite, which received an ID No. 53315 and entered a 348 by 388-kilometer orbit.
On August 1, the US Space Forces found the newly launched Russian vehicle in a 284 by 425-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.25 toward the Equator, but the object was soon identified as the upper stage. The new satellite was then determined to be in a 435 by 452-kilometer orbit, which was considerably closer to its assumed American target than the stage that delivered it into orbit.
According to Dr. Marco Langbroek, an expert in satellite tracking, the orbit difference between USA-326 and the possible Russian inspector was only 0.14 degrees in orbital inclination, 65 kilometers in apogee, 53 kilometers in perigee, 0.20 revolutions per day in mean motion and 0.04 degree in the Right Ascension of the Ascending Node, RAAN, or the longitudinal point where a particular orbit crosses the plane of the Equator, when heading from Southern to Northern hemisphere.
Within 24 hours of the Kosmos-2558 launch, Jonathan McDowell estimated that the Russian satellite would pass within 75 kilometers below USA-326 at around 14:47 UTC on August 4, 2022.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket is ready for rollout to the launch pad from vehicle assembly building in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket rolls out to the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket is erected on the launch pad in Plesetsk on July 29, 2022. Click to enlarge.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket lifts off on Aug. 1, 2022. Click to enlarge.
Second stage of the Soyuz-2-1v rocket takes over powered ascent on Aug. 1, 2022.