Soyuz launches spy satellite
Russian military personnel in Plesetsk launched a second satellite in two weeks. A Soyuz-2-1b rocket carried a semi-classified payload known as Lotos-S1 or 14F145. It was the sixth addition to the Liana constellation performing electronic intelligence from space for the Russian armed forces.
The sixth Lotos-S1 mission at a glance:
Preparations for launch
The 6th mission of the Lotos-S satellite brought the deployment pace of the Liana constellation to one spacecraft per year.
The preparations for the sixth Lotos mission were revealed in the advisory issued by the local environmental ministry in Russia's Komi Republic on April 1, 2022. The announcement warned about rocket debris scheduled to fall in the Ust-Tsilimsk and Izhemsky Districts during a period of April 7 to 9. The primary launch window was between 13:30 and 15:30 Moscow Time (6:30 - 7:30 a.m. EDT). These sites were previously used for dropping the four boosters of the first stage and the payload fairing of the Soyuz rockets heading to an orbit with an inclination of 67 degrees toward the Equator.
A similar warning was issued for impact sites between Yar Sale and Ports Yakha settlements and Panaevsk - Khadaty-Yakha sites in the Yamal Regions, which were previously employed for discarding the second stage and three panels of the aft skirt from the third stage, along the same ground track.
Orbital ascent scenario
A Soyuz-2-1b rocket carrying a Lotos-S1 No. 806 satellite lifted off from Site 43 in Plesetsk on April 7, 2022. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that launch had taken place as scheduled at 14:20 Moscow Time from Pad 3.
Available information from the previous launches into the Liana constellation and advisories to air traffic allowed projecting the flight scenario for this mission. After a few seconds in vertical ascent, the rocket headed northeast to align its ground track with an orbit inclined around 67.1 degrees toward the Equator. The four boosters of the first stage separated after around two minutes into the flight and fell at the S15 drop zone around 350 kilometers from the launch site. The payload fairing protecting the payload was dropped next, likely targeting the S16 drop zone in the Komi Republic.
Less than five minutes into the flight, the core booster of the rocket completed its firing and separated as well.
Moments before the second stage separation, the RD-0124 engine of the third stage ignited and fired through the interstage lattice structure, which separated moments later along with the second stage. Around five seconds after that, the tail section on the third stage was dropped splitting into three segments. Both, the second-stage booster and the segments of the tail section were expected to fall at the S18 drop zone in the Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous Region. The third stage then continued firing until around nine minutes into the flight, before releasing its payload into an initial orbit.
According to the Russian military, the satellite successfully entered orbit and established normal contact with ground control. It received the official designation Kosmos-2554.
In previous launches of Lotos satellites, the spacecraft and its empty third stage first entered a 200 by 900-kilometer elliptical orbit, but the satellite fired its engine in apogee to circularize its orbit at a safe altitude of around 900 kilometers a couple of days later. The satellite would then be ready for operation.
The US Space Force detected two objects associated with the launch which likely represented the payload and the third stage of the Soyuz rocket:
As expected, on April 9, 2022, Kosmos-2554 maneuvered to a 901 by 910-kilometer operational orbit.
A complete list of launches in the Liana constellation:
Lotos-S electronic intelligence spacecraft. Credit: Arsenal