A clandestine militarypayload was placed into orbit by Russian military forces Wednesday in a launchfrom the nation's northern space base. The craft is likely a new spy satellitethat will serve the Russian defense ministry.
The satellite was hauledinto space by a Soyuz rocket from launch complex 16 at the Plesetsk Cosmodromein far northern Russia at 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT). Defense officials said thespacecraft successfully separated from the rocket's third stage less than tenminutes after liftoff. The craft was released into an orbit with a high pointof about 210 miles (337 kilometers), a low point of 105 miles (168 kilometers),and an inclination of around 67 degrees.
The payload is officiallycalled Kosmos 2420 under the discreet Russian military nomenclature forsatellites. Kosmos 2420 was the first military craft to be launched by Russiathis 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 aYantar or Kobalt-class spy satellite to bolster Russia's declining military intelligencepresence in space. If so, it will probably gather high resolution imagery ofkey international locations to be returned to Earth in re-entry capsules overthe mission's lifetime.
The Russian news agencyItar-Tass reported earlier this week that defense ministry officials moved thelaunch forward from mid-May.