A Russian Soyuz 2.1b rocket used to launch an Egyptian spy satellite is believed to placed its EgyptSat-A payload into a lower than expected orbit. The anomaly is the latest in a string of mishaps that have plagued a traditionally reliable vehicle.
The Soyuz 2.1b carrying the EgyptSat-A satellite was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 16:47 UTC (23:47 local time) yesterday. Although it initially appeared to have been a successful launch, following the first burn of the rocket’s Fregat upper stage, the satellite appeared to be in a lower than expected orbit. Fortunately, the upper stage was able to compensate for the shallow orbit with Rocosmos confirming the satellite was placed into its designated orbit.
As yet, it is not clear whether it was the Soyuz rocket or Fregat upper stage that underperformed during yesterday’s launch. Insiders close to the Russian space agency have suggested that the first Fregat burn was shorter than expected resulting in the shallow orbit. This may point to the issue being something small not needing a protracted mishap investigation.
Despite the EgyptSat-A satellite ultimately being placed into its designated orbit, the launch of the next Soyuz mission has been postponed. According to Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël, a new date for the Arianespace VS21 mission, which was expected to launch from the Guiana Space Centre on February 26, will “be announced ASAP”.
Currently, Roscosmos has not delayed the launch of the International Space Station’s Expedition 59 crew aboard a Soyuz FG, which uses a similar architecture to the Soyuz 2, in mid-March.