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Russian Military Space: Rokot Launches Three Strela-3M Communications Satellites

A Rokot satellite launch vehicle launched in 2016 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Photograph courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

The Russian military successfully launched three Strela-3M communications satellites on 30 November 2018 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northwest Russia, according to reports from TASS, the Russian state news agency.

“On Friday, November 30, at 5:27 Moscow time, an operational crew of the Space Troops of the Russian Aerospace Forces successfully launched a Rokot-class light carrier rocket with a cluster of spacecraft for the Russian Defense Ministry from launch pad 3, Site 133 of the State Testing Cosmodrome of Plesetsk in the Arkhangelsk Region,” the press service said in a statement.

Rokot is a satellite launch vehicle capable of delivering light and medium-sized payloads in to low-Earth orbit. It was built based on the design of the RS-18 (SS-19) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) manufactured by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Centre. After the Cold War the missiles were re-purposed by Khrunichev to serve as satellite launch vehicles. The first Rokot launch took place on 16 May 2000. To date, 29 Rockot launches have been made to put about 17 satellites into orbit.

Within hours of the launch the Russian Ministry of Defence was able to establish links with the three satellites and confirm that they were all operational in the correct orbit.

“Three space vehicles launched in the interests of the Russian Defense Ministry by a unit of the Space Army of the Aerospace Force from Plesetsk Cosmodrome with the small-lift launch vehicle Rokot were injected into final orbit and accepted for control by ground facilities of the Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Center of the Space Army of the Aerospace Force,” the Russian Defence ministry announced in a statement.

“After control over the space vehicles had been assumed, they were numbered ‘Kosmos-2530,’ ‘Kosmos-2531’ and ‘Kosmos-2532’,” the statement added.

The three satellites are believed to be Strela-3M (also known as Rodnik-S) strategic store-and-dump communications satellites that operate at a 1,400 kilometre altitude in low-Earth orbit. The Strela-3M series has been in operation since 2005, and is an improved version of the Strela-3 communications satellite that began service in 1985.

There is a civilian version of the Strela-3M called the Gonets-M, and some media outlets are reporting that the 30 November launch was to orbit these versions. This can be discounted, however, since all official announcements about the launch have come from the Russian Ministry of Defence.

On a related matter, it appears that the Rokot launch was severely delayed due to problems sourcing parts normally made in Ukraine for the Briz-KM upper stage of the launch vehicle.

“The launch of Gonets-M spacecraft was postponed to 2018 over the absence of deliveries of Briz-KM upper stage components by Ukrainian contractors,” according to Roscosmos quoted in Sputnik, a Russian news outlet.

The low-Earth orbiting Strela-3M satellites launched from Plesetsk in Russia’s High North suggests that they are part of overall Russian efforts to establish strategic superiority in the Arctic Circle by providing continuous and reliable satellite communications support to Moscow’s growing military and commercial presence in the region.


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