Soyuz rocket operations in 2021
By the start of 2021, the Soyuz rockets had logged 40 missions without failures -- the latest evidence that Roskosmos' efforts to improve quality control across the industry might have been working. During the same period, the Soyuz rocket family had moved to become the commercial workhorse of the Russian rocket industry, taking over that role from the Proton. However, along with engineering issues, the Soyuz developers had entirely new problems to worry about.
A Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifts off from Vostochny with the fifith batch of OneWeb satellites on March 25, 2021.
Soyuz rockets might face political problems
On April 23, Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin announced that Russia had to deny a foreign customer a potential launch service. Rogozin portrayed the situation as a sign of popularity of the Soyuz rocket family (which was the only Russian commercial vehicle operating at the time). "When we suddenly had an opportunity this year to launch another spacecraft, we had to refuse a client for the first time in recent years because our physical production capacity is at its limit," Rogozin said after his visit to RKTs Progress, the Soyuz rocket builder. Asked to comment on such an unusual development, an expert familiar with the matter told RussianSpaceWeb.com that, in reality, the "refusal" to launch a commercial payload was most likely caused by the US sanctions scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 1, 2021. Because it takes many months to plan a launch campaign, there was probably not enough time to accommodate a significant cargo on the available rockets, let alone to order a new vehicle before the US ban against Russian launch services would kick in, the source explained.
The US sanctions prohibited the launch of any payload that use American technologies or incorporate US-built components, thus covering the broadest range of spacecraft manufacturers far beyond American shores. Even worse, the ban specifically listed sanctioned companies, including GKNPTs Khrunichev (Proton's manufacturer) and RKTs Progress. Since Khrunichev's Proton has already been de-facto out of commercial competition for a number of years, RKTs Progress was the real victim.
On Dec. 22, 2020, the US Department of Commerce blacklisted 45 Russian and 58 Chinese companies as military suppliers.
Russian sources indicated that some creative ways of bypassing the ban through intermediate companies could be attempted but, more likely, the Soyuz rockets were risking being relegated to providing commercial services to a limited range of clients in the Far or Middle East or private individuals, such as space tourists.
In February 2021, during the pre-launch coverage of the Progress MS-16 mission, Deputy Director General at TsENKI Ruslan Mukhamedzhinov said that a total of 12 launches of the Soyuz rockets had been planned from Site 31 in Baikonur in 2021. In March, Head of Roskosmos Rogozin also promised at least six Soyuz rocket launches from Vostochny.
On February 16, Roskosmos announced the arrival of a Soyuz-2-1b rocket and two payload fairings at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. At the time, components for three more Soyuz-2-1b rockets and two payload fairings were at the launch site. The vehicles were apparently allocated to OneWeb missions. The assembly of the first rocket was scheduled to begin on February 24.
In addition, components for three more Soyuz-2-1b rockets and one Soyuz-2-1a were stored at the vehicle assembly building. Two 1b rockets for OneWeb missions were already assembled booster stages and two disassembled vehicles for the Meteor and Luna-25 missions were stored in separate stages. At the time, the Ionosfera and Kondor-FKA satellites also had a chance to fly before the end of 2021. On September 21, Roskosmos announced that two more Soyuz-2-1b rockets were shipped to Vostochny for unnamed customers.
Two more Soyuz-2-1b rockets and their payload fairings for Russian federal missions arrived at Vostochny during the night from October 15 to October 16. The assembly of rockets' first and second stage was scheduled to begin on October 19, before they would be put in storage mode. According to Roskosmos vehicles were intended to employ "naftil" version of the kerosene fuel.
February 2: Soyuz-2-1b launches an ear in the sky
The Russian military personnel in Plesetsk performed the country's first orbital launch of 2021 in the late hours of February 2. A Soyuz-2-1b rocket delivered a semi-classified satellite known as Lotos-S1 or 14F145. It was the fifth addition to the Liana constellation performing electronic intelligence from space for the Russian armed forces.
February 15: Soyuz-2-1a launches Progress MS-16
The 77th Russian cargo supply flight to the International Space Station, ISS, lifted off on February 15, with the unusual task of discarding the veteran Pirs Docking Compartment, SO1, from the Russian Segment of the outpost, to make way for the long-awaited MLM Nauka module later in 2021.
February 28: Soyuz launches first Arktika-M satellite
Russian personnel at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan performed an inaugural launch of the Arktika-M meteorological and remote-sensing satellite on Feb. 28, 2021. Derived from the Elektro-L series of weather satellites, the Arktika spacecraft will be used primarily for meteorological observations of the strategically important northern Russian frontier from a highly elliptical orbit stretched above the northern hemisphere of our planet.
After a 48-hour delay by a technical problem, Russian personnel at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, successfully launched a Soyuz-2-1a rocket on March 22, 2021, delivering the CAS-500-1 remote-sensing satellite for South Korea and 38 hitchhiker payloads from 18 countries in three different sun-synchronous orbits.
March 25: Soyuz launches fifth OneWeb cluster
The deployment of the Internet-delivery satellite constellation for the UK-based OneWeb company resumed in 2021 with the launch of a Soyuz-2-1b rocket carrying a fresh batch of 36 satellites. Originating from Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome, the fifth OneWeb mission lifted off on March 25, at 05:47 Moscow Time.
The first Russian crew exchange aboard the International Space Station, ISS, in 2021, came at a critical junction in the operation of the outpost's Russian Segment. Lifting off on April 9 on a Soyuz-2-1a rocket, the crew members of the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft were prepared to support the arrival and integration of the MLM Nauka module with the ISS during the 65th and 66th long-duration expeditions on the ISS.
April 26: Soyuz launches sixth OneWeb cluster
The deployment of the OneWeb Internet constellation continued from Vostochny Cosmodrome with the second launch in 2021. A Soyuz-2-1b rocket carrying a fresh batch of 36 satellites for the UK-based company lifted off on April 26. The mission increased the number of spacecraft in the network from 146 to 182.
A Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket successfully delivered a fresh batch of 36 satellites for the UK-based OneWeb company after lifting off on May 28, from Vostochny Cosmodrome. Delayed for 24 hours by a technical problem, it was the third launch of the year into the OneWeb constellation, boosting it from 182 to 218 spacecraft.
A long-delayed spacecraft believed to be capable of guiding Russian Navy missiles to their targets reached orbit. The liftoff of a Soyuz-2-1b rocket with the Pion-NKS radar-carrying satellite took place as scheduled on June 25, 2021, at 22:50:00 Moscow Time (3:50 p.m. EDT) from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
The 78th Russian cargo supply flight to the International Space Station, ISS, lifted off from Baikonur on June 30, 2021. Progress MS-17 spacecraft should initially dock to the MIM-2 Poisk module, a part of the Russian ISS segment, but after the planned arrival of the MLM Nauka module on July 23, Progress would be relocated to the new module's free port to prepare it for the addition of yet another Russian component -- the Prichal node module.
A Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket delivered a fresh batch of 36 satellites for the UK-based OneWeb company after lifting off on July 1, 2021, from Vostochny Cosmodrome. It is the fourth launch of the year into the OneWeb constellation, boosting it from 218 to 254 spacecraft.
August 22: Soyuz launches ninth OneWeb cluster
A Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket lifted off with a batch of 34 satellites for the UK-based OneWeb company in early hours of August 22, 2021, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Around 48 hours earlier, the mission was aborted less than a minute before its scheduled liftoff due to a technical problem. It is the fifth mission of the year to build the OneWeb constellation, boosting it from 254 to 288 spacecraft.
September 9: Soyuz-2-1v rocket launches military payload
Russian military personnel in Plesetsk performed a successful launch of Soyuz-2-1v vehicle with a classified payload, according to the nation's department of defense.
October 14: Soyuz launches 11th OneWeb cluster
A Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket lifted off with a batch of 36 satellites from Vostochny Cosmodrome for the UK-based OneWeb company. It was the seventh launch of the year into the OneWeb constellation, boosting it from 322 to 358 spacecraft.
October 28: Progress MS-18 docks at Zvezda
Launched in the early hours of October 28, 2021, the Progress MS-18 cargo ship embarked on a two-day trip to the International Space Station, ISS, aiming to dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module. That particular docking mechanism was unoccupied for half a year, because it is connected to the rest of the outpost via the PrK transfer compartment which had been leaking air despite all efforts to seal tiny cracks in its walls. (INSIDER CONTENT) Progress MS-18 should confirm that the PrK chamber could be used safely.
November 24: Prichal begins its trip to ISS
Lifting off from Baikonur's Site 31, a Soyuz 2-1b rocket successfully delivered the Prichal Node Module, UM, Russia's latest permanent addition to the International Space Station, ISS.
November 25: Russia launches a missile-detection satellite
Military personnel at Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia launched a Soyuz-2-1b rocket in early hours of November 25 carrying a classified payload which is believed to be the fifth Kupol satellite for the constellation designed to provide the Kremlin and the Russian military leadership with early warning about missile launches around the world. In 2020, the full deployment of the network was promised by 2024.
December 4: Soyuz delivers a pair of Galileo satellites
After a five-year break, the Soyuz rocket picked up the task of deploying the European satellite navigation system. The long-delayed 13th launch in the Galileo program lifted off from a tropical launch site in French Guiana on a Soyuz-ST-B rocket on December 4, 2021, carrying the 27th and 28th operational satellites for the constellation. It was the 26th launch of a Soyuz rocket from the coast of South America.
December 8: Soyuz MS-20 delivers tourists to ISS
Russia resumed commercial visits to the International Space Station, ISS, after a more than a 12-year break. The Soyuz MS-20 mission carrying two Japanese tourists to the orbital outpost on a 12-day flight launched on Dec. 8, 2021, aboard a Soyuz-2-1a rocket. The spacecraft arrived at the station after four orbits in autonomous flight.
December 27: Soyuz launches the 12th OneWeb cluster
A Soyuz rocket family is completing its 22 launch campaigns of 2021 with the delivery of 36 satellites for the UK-based OneWeb company. The mission lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 27. It is the 12th mission for the OneWeb overall and the eighth launch of the year to build the Internet constellation, expanding it from 358 to 394 spacecraft.
Summary of launches in the Soyuz rocket family in 2021 (as of December 27, 2021 ):
Soyuz-2-1b with Arktika-M1 satellite lifts off on Feb. 28, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifts off on June 25, 2021, with the first Pion-NKS satellite. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense