Using a Russian Navy strategic submarine and a converted ballistic missile, a small research satellite was launched into orbit Friday on a mission to aid in the potential development of earthquake forecasts from space.
The Shtil 1 rocket blasted out of its launch tube at 1850 GMT (2:50 p.m. EDT). The three-stage liquid-fueled booster later released its payload as planned into the targeted orbit with a high point of about 300 miles, a low point of approximately 250 miles, and an inclination of around 79 degrees.
The launch originated from the Russian Navy's nuclear-powered Ekaterinburg submarine submerged in the Barents Sea inside the Arctic Circle offshore Russia's northern coast.
Ground controllers detected the first signals from the craft approximately seven hours later when it passed over a Russian ground station. The Complex Orbital Magneto-Plasma Autonomous Small Satellite 2 (COMPASS 2) was determined to be in good health, officials said. Known as Kompass 2 in the Russian language, the 180-pound microsatellite will soon begin its mission to study earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The mission is managed by the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere, and Radio Waves Propagation, or IZMIRAN, which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The satellite carries five scientific instruments - totaling almost 45 pounds - to detect seismic activity and to help determine the tell-tale signs of impending earthquakes and other natural phenomena. Provided by scientists from Russia, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, and Ukraine, the instruments will probe the Earth's underground lithosphere, atmosphere, ionosphere, and magnetosphere to learn how each terrestrial region is connected with a variety of events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, tropical cyclones, and tornadoes.
Data from these studies will contribute to the efforts of scientists to establish a model for the cause-and-effect links associated with natural disasters found in all regions of the Earth. Scientists also hope to find precursors of earthquakes that will help in possible predictions of earthquakes based on information gathered from satellites in space.
Links between the upper atmosphere and seismic activity were first noticed in the 1960s, but hard scientific data was not available until 1979. The Interkosmos 19 satellite detected an unusual low-frequency noise in a large area centered near the epicenter of an earthquake that occurred a few hours later. This finding was later confirmed by other spacecraft.
IZMIRAN launched the first COMPASS satellite in late 2001 with a specialized payload to further study these connections. The experiment quickly failed, however, when the instrument payload stopped working. A third COMPASS satellite could launch before the end of 2006.
The launch was postponed two days from Wednesday to undisclosed reasons. The flight was the 19th space launch to successfully reach orbit in 2006, and the sixth launch from Russia this year.