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.


Arktika-M1 mission at a glance:

Spacecraft designation Arktika-M No. 1
Launch date and time 2021 Feb. 28, 09:55:01.415 Moscow Time (06:55 UTC, 01:55 a.m. EST)
Spacecraft mass 2,200 kilograms
Spacecraft prime developer NPO Lavochkin
Launch vehicle Soyuz-2-1b No. 15000-032
Upper stage Fregat No. 122-07 with the PKhO RBFST-0400-0 adapter
Payload fairing 81KS 1000-0 No. G15000-028
Launch site Baikonur, Site 31
Target orbit 1,043 by 39,727 kilometers; inclination: 63.30 degrees

Project history

Although the Arktika project was officially a part of the Russian federal space program extending from 2006 to 2015, the development of the first satellite was only formally authorized by Roskosmos in a contract No. 361-4927/12 to NPO Lavochkin signed on Aug. 22, 2012.

During early planning in 2008, the first pair of Arktika-M satellites was expected to fly in 2013, (299) but by December 2010, the first launch slipped to 2014. (442) At the time of the original contract signing in 2012, the first launch was promised in 2015 and the second in 2016. However by the middle of 2015, the first Arktika mission was postponed from 2016 to 2017 and continued slipping.

In the meantime, the development of the project was further extended by a new contract, No. 361-4927/16/311, signed on Dec. 9, 2016.

In April 2018, Moscow-based RKS corporation announced that it had completed the production of the MSU-GSM scanning device for the first Arktika satellite and transferred it to NPO Lavochkin. By that time, the launch of the first spacecraft was promised in 2019, but by the middle of 2018, the first launch was pushed to the third or fourth quarter of 202o due to delays with the launch of the Elektro-L No. 3 satellite.

Because the performance of the imaging equipment aboard Elektro-L3 had to validate the design of the follow-on instruments aboard Arktika, engineers needed some time between the two missions to evaluate the quality of photos delivered by the third Elektro spacecraft. Still, the official schedule at the time called for the launch of Arktika in 2019.

By early 2020, the launch was set for December 9 of that year. Then, on September 14, RIA Novosti reported that the launch had been postponed until December 24; however by early October 2020, Roskosmos indicated that the mission had slipped into 2021. By November 2020, the first launch was set for February 28, 2021, when everything was finally ready for a launch campaign. In December 2020, NPO Lavochkin declared vacuum testing of the first Arktika satellite inside the VK-600/300 chamber facility of NITs RKP center in Peresvet successfully completed.

Design of Arktika-M1 satellite


The general architecture of the Navigator service module for the Arktika-M satellite (left) and the Elektro-L series.

The Arktika-M1 spacecraft consisited of two main components: the Navigator service module, also known as Base Module of Service Systems, BMSS, and the payload module. Naturally, the BMSS platform and its software saw some modifications during the transition from the Elektro-L3 satellite, for which it had previously served as a basis, to the Arktika-M project. Most notably, the Arktika-M was equipped with a pair of solar panels instead of a single array installed on the Elektro-L series. In addition, the Arktika had to be equipped with avionics more resistant to radiation because its orbit went through radiation belts of the Earth.

The comparison of the BMSS module on Arktika-M No. 1 and Elektro-L3 and satellites (944):

BMSS for Arktika-M No. 1 satellite
BMSS for Elektro-L satellite
Onboard Flight Control System, BKU
Star tracker 348K
Astro-coordinator SED26
Two SDP-1
KUDM Agat-40S
KIND 34-020-01
BUK 1-1
Power supply system, SES
Rechargeable battery, AB, ZONV-70
Two solar panels (GaAs)
One solar panel (GaAs)
Propulsion system
Two tanks
Three tanks
Pressurization unit
Spherical tank
Two compensators
Three compensators
Telemetry system
Onboard equipment of the command and measurement system
Three SHa1053M
Three UM3334-10
Antenna system, AFS for BAKIS
Solar panel orientation system
Two E15
One E15
Two E16
One E16
Autonomous system of navigation, ASN
Autonomous navigation system, SAN
Electrization control system


The instruments aboard Arktika-M No. 1 were also upgraded based on the experience from the Elektro-L No. 3 mission:


Payloads aboard Arktika-M No. 1
Payloads aboard Elektro-L satellite
Multi-Range Scanner, MSU-GS
Onboard Data Gathering System, BSSD-VE
Onboard Data Gathering System, BSSD-E
Helio-physics Instrument Complex, GGAK-VE
Helio-physics Instrument Complex, GGAK-E
High-gain antenna pointing system, ONA
One ONA mechanism
Two ONA mechanisms
Onboard Radio Complex, BRTK-VE
Onboard Radio Complex, BRTK-E


Preparations for flight

On January 18, 2021, Roskosmos announced that specialists at NPO Lavochkin had been processing the Fregat upper stage in Baikonur in preparation for the mission. At the time, the delivery of the Arktika-M satellite to the launch site was planned before the end of the month, Roskosmos said. The spacecraft arrived at Baikonur on a cargo flight from Moscow's Sheremetievo airport on January 27, 2021.

The fueling operations with the spacecraft started in Baikonur on February 4 and were completed on February 7, 2021. The satellite was then encapsulated into the payload section and integrated with the third stage of the launch vehicle. The assembly of the Soyuz rocket for the mission was completed in Baikonur on February 23 with the integration of the upper composite with the cluster of the first and second stages of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket.


On February 24, the State Commission overseeing the Arktika-M mission gave the green light to the rollout of its Soyuz rocket to the launch pad the next morning. The launch vehicle left the assembly building at 05:30 Moscow Time on February 25, and after its transfer to the launch facility at Site 31, was installed on the pad in vertical position. As usual, work at the launch complex started with the connection of various umbilical interfaces and was followed by autonomous tests of all the systems of the rocket, the spacecraft and the launch facility. The following day, specialists analyzed the telemetry received during the tests and prepared their report on the readiness of all systems. The final pre-launch operations were planned during the night from February 27 to 28. The State Commission re-convened on the morning of February 28, clearing the rocket for fueling and launch, Roskosmos said. The loading of kerosene fuel into tanks of the first and second stages started at 06:25 Moscow Time. The fueling was scheduled to be completed at 08:45 Moscow Time.

Arktika lifts off

A Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat rocket carrying the 2,100-kilogram Arktika-M No. 1 satellite lifted off from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome on Feb. 28, 2021, at 09:55:01 Moscow Time. According to the Head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin, the launch was near the allowable limit in wind speed at the heights up to 2 kilometers.

The mission targeted a highly elliptical (egg-shaped) orbit that requires the satellite around 12 hours to make every revolution around the planet. It is known as a "Molniya orbit" after a series of original Soviet communications satellites. The system was used to provide coverage across the USSR, including its high latitudes that were hard to reach for geostationary satellites orbiting in the Equatorial plane of the Earth and therefore appearing very low over the horizon in these vast regions of the planet, if at all. The Arktika-M was designed to use a similar orbit primarily for weather-monitoring activities rather than for communications.

The initial three-stage ascent of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket was largely routine with the liftoff under the simultaneous thrust of the four peripheral engines of the first stage and the central engine of the second stage.

The four strap-on boosters of the first stage consumed their propellant first and dropped off 117.76 seconds after liftoff. In the meantime, the core booster continued firing until 4.7 minutes into the flight and separated at T+287.54 seconds, followed by the split and separation of three segments of the third stage skirt at 290.26 seconds and the halves of the payload fairing at 291.12 seconds. These three milestones were timed in close proximity from each other to ensure that all the debris fall in the designated drop zone along the mission's ground track. The particular impact site was located near the Novaya Burka village in the Bakcharskiy District of the Tomsk Region in Western Siberia.

The third stage of the rocket ignited its RD-0124 engine moments before the separation of the second stage, firing for a few seconds through a lattice structure connecting the two boosters until the core stage dropped off. The third stage kept firing until T+559.18 seconds, just before it reached an orbital velocity in order to make sure it did not reach orbit and instead splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. The third-stage booster separated from the Fregat fourth stage at T+562.48 seconds in flight.

Upper stage maneuvers


Shortly after entering its ballistic path, the Fregat upper stage was programmed to fire its main engine for the first time, reaching an initial parking orbit around the Earth. Shortly after the planned maneuver, Roskosmos confirmed that the first ignition and engine cutoff on the Fregat stage had gone as planned.

Soon thereafter, the mission's ground track approached the eastern-most limit of the Russian ground stations' range, therefore the Fregat's second maneuver after a period of passive flight will not be confirmed until the vehicle makes the full circle around the Earth and reappears from the West within the range of the Russian ground network. By that time, the Fregat/Arktika stack was performing its second coasting phase climbing toward the apogee (highest point) of its elliptical transfer orbit.

Once at apogee of the transfer orbit (and around half way to the peak of the traget orbit, the Fregat fired its engine for the third time, inserting the spacecraft in the 1,049 by 39,726-kilometer orbit with an inclination 63.3 degrees toward the Equator and the orbital period of 726 minutes. (The same manuever also adjusted the inclination by a few tens of a degree.) It took the spacecraft 248 minutes (4.1 hours) to reach its operational apogee for the first time after the third Fregat firing.

The separation of the upper stage and the 2.2-ton satellite took place over the Mediterranean Sea at 12:14:16.161 Moscow Time, two hours 19 minutes after the liftoff from Baikonur, .

Less than half an hour after the planned separation, Head of Roskosmos announced that the spacecraft had been in the correct orbit, in contact with ground control and its solar panels deployed.

The Fregat upper stage was scheduled to fire its thrusters at 15:06 Moscow Time (7:06 a.m. EST) to enter a burial orbit.

Arktika-M No. 1 was declared operational on Sept. 3, 2021.


Article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 16, 2023

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last update: February 27, 2021

All rights reserved

insider content


The first Arktika-M satellite during final assembly at NPO Lavochkin circa 2020. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Arktika-M1 satellite is being packed for shipment at NPO Lavochkin on January 26, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Arktika-M1 satellite is being packed for shipment at NPO Lavochkin on January 26, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Arktika-M1 satellite and Fregat upper stage are being prepared for integration with their payload fairing on Feb. 23, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Arktika-M1 satellite and Fregat upper stage are being integrated with their payload fairing on Feb. 23, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The upper composite with the third stage of the launch vehicle is being prepared for integration with the booster stages of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


A Soyuz-2-1b rocket with Arktika-M1 satellite leaves the assembly building on Feb. 25, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


A Soyuz-2-1b rocket is installed on the launch pad at Site 31 on Feb. 25, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Access gantry were lowered around the Soyuz-2-1b rocket around hlaf an hour before liftoff on Feb. 28, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Soyuz-2-1b with Arktika-M1 satellite lifts off on Feb. 28, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


An artist rendering of the Arktika-M launch during the operation of the 3rd stage. Credit: Roskosmos


Arktika-M/Fregat stack separate from the third stage of the launch vehicle. Credit: Roskosmos


Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Roskosmos released first photos from Arktika-M1 on March 22, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos