A Russian Soyuz rocket launched an Egyptian Earth-observation satellite into orbit on Thursday (Feb. 21) despite experiencing technical problems a few minutes after liftoff.
The three-stage Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:47 a.m. EST (1647 GMT), topped with the satellite EgyptSat-A, which was attached to the rocket's Fregat upper stage. Although Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, and the satellite's manufacturer, RSC Energia, reported that the satellite had reach its intended orbit, multiple Russian news reports "suggested [that] the mission may have experienced a close call during the climb into orbit," Spaceflight Now reported.
According to Spaceflight Now, EgyptSat-A and the Fregat upper stage had entered a "lower-than-expected orbit" after separating from the Soyuz rocket 9 minutes after liftoff — likely due to a problem with the rocket's third-stage engine. However, the Fregat upper stage "appeared to have corrected the apparent performance shortfall," boosting the satellite to its intended polar orbit, at an altitude of about 400 miles (650 kilometers).
The $100 million EgyptSat-A will provide high-resolution images of Earth for Egypt's National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS). EgyptSat-A was built as a replacement for EgyptSat-2, which failed in April 2015, three years into its planned 11-year mission.
Thursday's anomaly led the European launch provider Arianespace to postpone lofting the first 10 OneWeb communications satellites by one day, to Tuesday (Feb. 26), because that mission will also use a Soyuz rocket. "That flight is slated to use a Soyuz ST-B rocket, a variant that uses the same third-stage design as the Soyuz-2.1b launcher that flew Thursday with EgyptSat-A," Spaceflight Now reported.
"At least one day slip for the launch. Ugh," Greg Wyler, founder and executive chairman, tweeted after EgyptSat-A's launch on Thursday. "Glad to see EgyptSat-A launch was successful but need to review more data on that launch before proceeding. Waiting patiently."