Soyuz-2-1v rocket launches military payload
On March 29, 2023, 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.
The EO MKA No. 4 mission at a glance:
Around March 14, 2023, rumors on the Russian-language forums reported preparations for another launch from Plesetsk within couple of days. According to some posters, a Soyuz-2-1v rocket was expected to launch EO MKA No. 4 experimental satellite, apparently similar to a previous such spacecraft launched in 2021. By March 16, Russian authorities issued a warning to air traffic in the Arctic region, indicating a launch around 07:00 UTC on March 23, 2023.
According to the warnings to air and and sea traffic issued by the Russian authorities, the launch from Plesetsk was planned between 20:00 and 21:00 UTC (23:00-24:00 Moscow Time, 4-5 p.m. EDT) on March 29, 2023.
The mission lifted off on March 29, 2023, at 22:57:02 Moscow Time.
Emulating a similar earlier mission, the rocket likely headed almost exactly north, under the combined propulsion 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.
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 the free flow of the exhaust from the nozzles above. Right after the separation of the first stage, the tail section of the second stage split into three segments and fell away.
Both, the first stage and the fragments of the tail section were expected to splash down in the Barents Sea, north of Murmansk.
As the second stage continued its burn, the payload fairing protecting the satellite split in two halves and also separated. Its fragments were to fall into the Arctic Ocean, south of the Spitsbergen Archipelago.
Around the time of the reentry of the second such satellite in May 2022, a post on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum claimed that Kosmos-2555 and 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.
After the successful launch on March 29, 2023, the new satellite received official designation Kosmos-2568.
The US Space Force quicklly published orbital parameters for two objects associated with the launch, likely representing the payload and the upper stage:
In the following weeks, the satellite was seen steadily losing altitude without any sign of orbital maneuevers:
However, in late June and early July 2023, Kosmos-2568 showed first signs of orbital maneuvering, something that have never been noticed happening to his three presumed predecessors – Kosmos-2551, Kosmos-2555 and Kosmos-2560. Starting around Aug. 9, 2023, Kosmos-2568 appeared to perform small orbit-raising maneuvers, counteracting natural orbital decay.
A Soyuz-2-1v rocket leaves the assembly building in Plesetsk in March 2023. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
A Soyuz-2-1v rocket rolls out to the launch pad in Plesetsk in March 2023. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
Soyuz-2-1v lifts off on March 29, 2023. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense