Angara-1.2 flies its first mission
A new version of the Angara rocket lifted off from Plesetsk on April 29, 2022, to validate its light-weight orbital delivery capability for the Russian military and Roskosmos.
The first Angara-1.2 mission at a glance:
After 25 years in development, the Angara-1.2 rocket finally reached the launch pad at Site 35 in Plesetsk in April 2022. Earlier in the year, the mission was expected on April 16, but eventually slipped to the end of the month.
The Ministry of Defense provided no details on the launch campaign but on April 22, 2022, Russian authorities released multiple warnings to air and sea traffic, indicating launches over the Barents Sea between April 26 and 27. The announced location of two impact sites suggested a ground track originating from Plesetsk and heading north-northwest after crossing into the Arctic Ocean just east of Murmansk. Such a trajectory would enable ascent to a near-polar orbit, which was expected to be the main destination for the Angara-1.2 rocket.
The announced drop zones could be used by the first-stage booster, URM-1, and by fragments of the payload fairing.
Two others warnings in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Californian cost, appeared to reserve impact locations for more fragments. One could be used by the second stage (INSIDER CONTENT) of the Angara-1.2 completing its burn when it almost reached orbital velocity. The second zone could be used for deorbiting of the rocket's Aggregate Module, AO, (INSIDER CONTENT) (serving as the third stage) after the release of its payload and the completion of two orbits around the Earth.
Beyond those warnings there was no official information on the time of the launch or the nature of the mission before the actual liftoff.
Somewhat surprisingly, other warnings were issued for two locations in the Barents Sea for April 26 and 27, hinting additional air and sea-based launches coinciding with the expected inaugural flight of Angara-1.2. It was unclear whether these flights were related to the Angara-1.2 mission or the Russian military planned some unrelated activities at the same time.
By April 23, the Pacific Ocean warnings were updated, pushing the launch date to a period between May 1 and 7, 2022. Another set of warnings was issued on April 25, this time scheduling the launch date between April 28 and May 7, 2022.
According to a poster on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki web forum, the launch was scheduled on April 28, 2022, at 22:55:22 Moscow Time (3:55 p.m. EDT). However, shortly after the planned launch time, unofficial reports said that the liftoff had been postponed for 24 hours.
This time, everything worked as planned and the vehicle lifted off on April 29, 2022, at 22:55:22.612 Moscow Time. Numerous observers around Plesetsk and in the Arkhangelsk Region saw the rocket in the night sky, including the separation of the first stage.
Around half an hour after the launch, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the rocket launch had gone as planned and the tracking of the rocket by ground assets of the Titov Chief Test Center of the Russian Air and Space Forces, VKS, started at 22:58 Moscow Time. The spacecraft received an official designation Kosmos-2555.
As expected, the US Space Force radar tracked Kosmos-2555 in a 279 by 294-kilometer orbit with an inclination 96.5 degrees to the Equator. It had similar parameters to those of EMKA-1 and EMKA-2 military imaging satellites launched in 2018 and 2021, respectively. Around 23:03 GMT (02:03 Moscow Time) on April 30, 2022, the upper stage that delivered Kosmos-2555, was observed over the United Kingdom performing what was initially perceived as reentering the Earth atmosphere or conducting a propellant dump. However, orbital tracking data indicated that the stage had actually boosted its apogee to an altitude of around 500 kilometers, probably simulating a future delivery mission to a higher orbit. The vehicle could then be deorbited over the Pacific.
By May 14, 2022, the orbit of Kosmos-2555 decayed to a 227.7-kilometer perigee and a 247.9-kilometer apogee without any clear attempts to raise it, indicating that the satellite had never been activated.
According to ground observations, the satellite decayed in early hours of May 18, 2022. Around the time of the reentry, a post on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum claimed that Kosmos-2555 and its predecessor – Kosmos-2551 – had served as targets for Russia's Peresvet anti-satellite laser system. Both satellites were not intended to manuever and functioned as planned. The reentry of Kosmos-2555 was preceded by a statement from Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov about Russia's satellite-blinding laser.
The first Angara-1.2 rocket is being prepared for rollout from the vehicle assembly building in Plesetsk. Click to enlarge.
The rollout of the first Angara-1.2 rocket to the launch pad in Plesetsk. Credit: Dmitry Rogozin
The fist Angara-1.2 put up an impressive light show in the night sky over Northern Russia during the separation of the first and second stages illuminated by the setting sun. Click to enlarge.