Early yesterday morning, a Soyuz 2.1b launched carrying a missile warning satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The launch was the second Soyuz mission to lift off within 24 hours, with the crewed Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft being launched aboard the last Soyuz FG midday the day before.
The Soyuz 2.1b carrying the Kosmos 2541 missile warning satellite was launched on September 26, 2019, at 07:46 UTC (10:46 local time). Following the launch, a Roscosmos press release confirmed that the satellite had been placed into its designated orbit and that its onboard systems were operating nominally.
Although no information regarding the payload was released by the Russian Defense Ministry, the highly elliptical nature of its orbit makes it likely that its the third Tundra satellite. These satellites play a significant role in Russia’s early warning systems monitoring Earth for potentially hostile missile launches. The first Tundra satellite was launched in November 2015 with a second following in May 2017.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the last Soyuz FG mission was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome 3,000 kilometers southeast of Plesetsk. The rocket carried the crewed Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft with Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori from the United Arab Emirates aboard. Just six hours after the launch, the spacecraft docked with the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module.
The launch not only marked the retirement of the Soyuz FG rocket, which is set to be replaced by the upgraded Soyuz 2 but also potentially of the Baikonur Gagarin’s Start launchpad. The pad was the launch site of the historic Vostok 1 mission that saw Yuri Gagarin become the first human being in space on April 12, 1961.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia lost control of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located in southern Kazakhstan. As of June 2019, Kazakh officials indicated a desire to upgrade the pad between 2020 and 2023 to support the new Soyuz 2 rocket. However, there has been no word since leaving many to speculate that the site of some of Russia’s greatest achievements has seen its last launch.