A clandestine military payload was placed into orbit by Russian military forces Wednesday in a launch from the nation's northern space base. The craft is likely a new spy satellite that will serve the Russian defense ministry.
The satellite was hauled into space by a Soyuz rocket from launch complex 16 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in far northern Russia at 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT). Defense officials said the spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket's third stage less than ten minutes after liftoff. The craft was released into an orbit with a high point of about 210 miles (337 kilometers), a low point of 105 miles (168 kilometers), and an inclination of around 67 degrees.
The payload is officially called Kosmos 2420 under the discreet Russian military nomenclature for satellites. Kosmos 2420 was the first military craft to be launched by Russia this year, and the first space launch of any kind from Plesetsk since December. It was also the 17th launch worldwide to successfully achieve orbit in 2006.
Kosmos 2420 could be a Yantar or Kobalt-class spy satellite to bolster Russia's declining military intelligence presence in space. If so, it will probably gather high resolution imagery of key international locations to be returned to Earth in re-entry capsules over the mission's lifetime.
The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported earlier this week that defense ministry officials moved the launch forward from mid-May.