Russia’s brand new cosmodrome launches first-ever rocket
The lift-off took place at 5:01am Moscow time (2:01am GMT) and some 8 minutes 44 seconds into the flight the Volga upper stage carrying three satellites successfully separated from the Soyuz rocket.
All three satellites launched on the Soyuz rocket have been successfully deployed to their specified orbits. Experimental nanosatellite SamSat-218 disconnected from the Volga payload assist module at 07:07am Msocow time (04:07 GMT). Ten seconds later two main payload satellites, Lomonosov and Aist-l, also reached their destinations.
The Volga payload assist module was deorbited at 11:54 MOW (8:54 GMT) and the remains that didn’t burn up during re-entry into the atmosphere sank in an unnavigable zone of the Pacific Ocean, says the Defense Ministry’s Aerospace troops’ press service. It took a single firing from the thruster to effect the deorbiting.
The launch on Thursday was observed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who decided to stay for an extra day to personally take part in the event.
“I want to congratulate you. There’s a lot to be proud of,” Putin told Roscosmos staff following the successful launch. “The launch could technically have taken place yesterday, but the hardware overreacted and it was aborted. But that’s a normal occurrence.”
“Most importantly, the launch complex you developed is operating, functioning well,” the president added. “There’s a lot of work up ahead, but this was certainly a very serious, significant step in the development of Russian cosmonautics.”
The historic launch came a day behind schedule. First planned for Wednesday, it was aborted at the last minute when automatic safety systems detected a fail signal in one of their sensors.
“The first launch from a new pad is an important and sensitive event. Things like this happen. We will work it out,” the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, said in comments on the hitch.
Vice-Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin – a ‘space tsar’ in the Russian government – also watched the launch at the site, and was joined by the chief of Russian Space Troops, Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Golovko.
Both, Rogozin and Komarov received official reprimands from Vladimir Putin for the lapses that led to the aborted launch.
Vostochny is located in a desolate area of the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East, which allows spent stages to safely land in the taiga or neutral waters. Its construction was launched in 2012, as Russia saw the need for a domestic launch site for civilian rockets.
Russia has the large military launch facilities Plesetsk and Kapustin Yar, but for civilian launches has to rely primarily on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The launch of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket from Vostochny came after a delay. It was initially scheduled for December 2015, but the construction of the launch pad and other facilities went pass the deadline. The current roadmap says the cosmodrome should have up to 10 launches annually in the next several years. The first manned mission to the International Space Station is expected to be launched from Vostochny after 2023.
As the role played by the new cosmodrome increases, Russia intends continue launches from Baikonur. The standing lease contract with Kazakhstan ends in 2050. Compared to that site, Vostochny allows somewhat smaller payloads to be launched because it is located six degrees further north.
The work at the cosmodrome is continuing as additional launch pads are being constructed. The total cost of the project is estimated at around $2.7 billion. During its peak the process involved up to 8,000 workers and 1,000 heavy duty vehicles.
The Soyuz rocket launched from Vostochny on Tuesday used a new third stage Volga. Its payload includes the scientific satellite Mikhailo Lomonosov, an experimental nanosatellite SamSat-218 and a civilian distance viewing satellite Aist-2D. A day ahead the launch it was blessed by an Orthodox Christian bishop, a traditional ceremony for Russian space missions.