New Russian Military Satellite Launches on Soyuz Rocket

A Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stagesuccessfully launcheda Russian military communications satellite Tuesday to a high-altitudeorbitabove Earth.

The venerable expendable booster,upgraded with digitalcontrol systems and improved engines, blasted off from the PlesetskCosmodromein northern Russia 0059 GMT Tuesday (8:59 p.m. EDT Monday).

The three-stage Soyuz2-1a vehiclefinished its role in the launch within 10 minutes, giving way to aFregat upperstage to fire several times to place the Meridian communicationspayload in theplanned orbit.

The Meridian spacecraft will circleEarth in ahighly-inclined egg-shaped orbit with a high point stretching nearly25,000miles above the planet.

Thishigh-altitude perch,commonly called a Molniya orbit, allows satellites to stay in view ofRussianterritory for several hours during each circuit around the planet.Satellitesin this type of orbit cover polar regions, areas out of reach of manytraditional communications spacecraft in equatorial orbits. [Top10 Russian SpaceMissions]

The Soyuz and Fregat launch went"according to plan,"the Meridian satellite's contractor, ISS Reshetnev, said in a statementTuesday.

According to the company's website,the first communicationssession with the Meridian spacecraft was successful and all systemswerefunctioning properly in the hours after launch.

It was the third Meridian satellitelaunched since 2006. TheMeridian satellites are replacements for Molniyacommunicationssatellites providing coverage of high latitude polar regionsof Russia.

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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 and on Twitter.