The eighth Meridian communications satellite was launched aboard a Soyuz 2.1a on behalf of the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces earlier this morning.
The Soyuz 2.1a equipped with a Fregat upper stage launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying the Meridian 18L communications satellite at 05:56 UTC. Approximately 140 minutes following a successful launch, the rocket’s upper stage deployed the satellite into an elliptical orbit.
Meridian 18L is the first of four new Meridian satellites ordered in 2016. The system was originally planned to be replaced by a next-generation variant. However, after the replacement system was delayed, Russia was forced to order new satellites for the aging constellation.
The Meridian constellation operates in an elliptical Molniya orbit, which allows for near-continuous coverage of high northern latitude. The constellation works in conjunction with the country’s geostationary Raduga-1M satellites to offer a robust communications system.
According to a July 30 Roscomos press release, the Meridian satellites “provide communication between the sea vessels, ice patrol aircraft in the Northern Sea Route district with the coastal and ground stations, as well as to develop the satellite communication station network in the Northern Siberia and the Far East in order to support Russia’s economic development.”
This morning’s launch was the fourth Soyuz launch this month alone, with a fifth currently scheduled to be launched from Baikonur tomorrow. The four missions already launched utilized four unique Soyuz variants, with the first launched aboard a Soyuz 2.1b, the second a Soyuz 2.1v, the third a Soyuz-FG, and this morning’s aboard a Soyuz 2.1a.