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Soyuz Rocket Sends New Russian Weather Satellite Into Orbit

Soyuz Rocket Sends New Russian Weather Satellite Into Orbit
A Russian Soyuz 2-1b rocket launches a new Meteor M1 weather satellite and other payloads on from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Sept. 17, 2009 in this still from a video broadcast. (Image credit: Roshydromet)

A Russian Soyuz launchedrocketed into space Thursday with an upgraded weather satellite and severalother small payloads destined for a variety of missions.

The Soyuz 2-1b rocket,featuring advanced digital avionics and a more powerful third stage engine,lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1555 GMT (11:55 a.m.EDT) Thursday.

The rocket's core stageswrapped up their burns in less than 10 minutes, leaving a hydrazine-fueledFregat upper stage to finish putting the payloads in a sun-synchronous orbitabout 500 miles high.

The Soyuz successfully completed the launchwith the deployment of the spacecraft, according to a posting on the RoscosmosWeb site.

Launch attempts on Tuesdayand Wednesday were scrubbed due to bad weather and an unspecified technicalissue.

The delays aligned thelaunch with a commercial Proton flight, meaning the Baikonur Cosmodrome hostedback-to-back launches from across the sprawling spaceport barely three hoursapart.

The mission's primarypayload was the Meteor M1 weather satellite, a new Russian observatory designedto monitor the Earth's climate from its perch in polar orbit.

Meteor M1's six instrumentswill give Russian meteorologists a comprehensive look at the planet's weathersystems, helping forecasters create more accurate climate outlooks.

A suite of imagers andsounders will take pictures of cloud formations and detect sea surfacetemperatures, air temperatures and moisture. The craft also carries a radardesigned to monitor ice in the polar regions to aid navigation.

The 6,000-pound satelliteis a replacement for the Meteor 3-M1 observatory launched in 2001. Thatspacecraft failed a few years ago, forcing Russia to rely on foreign weathersatellites.

A second upgraded Meteorsatellite will be in launched in a few years. Both spacecraft should last up tofive years.

"This constellationwill meet international standards, and the data acquired will be compliant withthe demands of world weather organizations," said Valery Diaduchenko,deputy head of Roshydromet, the Russian weather service.

Russian officials sayaround 50 older Meteor satellite models have been launched during the past 25years, although none of the observatories are operating today.

The Soyuz also orbitedSouth Africa's second satellite, a 179-pound trunk-sized spacecraft namedSumbandilaSat. The $3.5 million mission draws its name from the local Vendalanguage word for "pioneer."

SumbandilaSat was originallysupposed to launch from a Russian Navy submarine aboard a Shtil launcher madefrom retired missile parts. But that deal fell through in a diplomatic quagmirethat triggered a delay of more than two years.

South Africa will useinformation gathered by the satellite for agriculture monitoring,infrastructure mapping, disaster response, population measurement, and watermanagement, according the country's Department of Science and Technology.

A search-and-rescuesatellite was also in the cache of secondary payloads carried by the Soyuzrocket.

Called Sterkh 2, theRussian contribution to the COSPAS-SARSAT international satellite system willjoin a similar spacecraft launched in July. The satellites detect distressbeacon signals from land, sea and air, determine their locations, and relay theinformation to emergency officials.

A small 17-pound spherecovered in polished glass, named BLITS, was carried into space to act as aretroreflector to study satellite laser ranging techniques. Engineers will uselasers to track the soccer ball-sized satellite to help improve orbitdetermination methods.

The Soyuz also deployed asmall payload called IRIS and a pair of small student-built satellites, eachweighing less than 100 pounds.

The Tatyana 2 and UGATUSATspacecraft will conduct education and basic technology demonstration missions.

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Stephen Clark

Stephen Clark is the Editor of Spaceflight Now, a web-based publication dedicated to covering rocket launches, human spaceflight and exploration. He joined the Spaceflight Now team in 2009 and previously wrote as a senior reporter with the Daily Texan. You can follow Stephen's latest project at (opens in new tab) and on Twitter (opens in new tab).