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Russian Soyuz rocket launches 38 satellites on first fully commercial mission

A Russian Soyuz rocket sent 38 satellites into space Monday (March 22), marking a historic rideshare mission for Russian company GK Launch Services.

This was the first time the company sent a fully commercial space mission aloft with no main, Russian government satellite on the rocket, according to media reports.

The rocket lifted off from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:07 a.m. EDT (0607 GMT or 11:07 local time). It was painted blue and white in honor of the cosmodrome's long history of sending people into space, with the 60th anniversary of the first-ever human spaceflight coming up April 12.

Video: Blastoff! Soyuz rocket launches 38 satellites on rideshare mission

A Soyuz rocket lifts off on the first-ever fully commercial Soyuz mission, on March 22, 2021. (Image credit: GK Launch Services via Roscosmos)

"This is the first time this rocket is painted in a white and blue color scheme instead of the standard gray-orange color combination," Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a machine-translated statement, adding the inspiration is the Vostok rocket that sent Gagarin into space in 1961.

Video footage from Baikonur, broadcast by Roscosmos, shows the Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifting off and disappearing into the clouds despite rainy conditions at the launch site. The launch had been delayed two days due to a detected problem in the upper Fregat stage of the rocket, Space News said.

Eighteen countries participated in the rideshare. The Fregat upper stage was expected to send the various satellites into three sun-synchronous orbits, GK Launch Services said, which gives consistent lighting conditions of each satellites' viewpoint of Earth. 

The company confirmed all satellites were deployed on Twitter on Monday, and said it is "awaiting confirmation from customers about establishing contact with the spacecraft." Each customer will then take over operations of its own spacecraft.

The largest satellite of the bunch was the CAS500-1 remote sensing spacecraft from the Republic of Korea, according to Space News. Quoting the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Space News said that satellite will first do six months of testing in orbit before starting high-resolution Earth observations in October.

The various other satellites have mandates such as scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, Earth observations and solar observations, according to GK Launch Services. Notably, the Italian-led Unisat-7 mission will release six nanosatellites, largely for technology, educational and research purposes.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.