On December 29 at 16:42:07 UTC (11:42:07 EST), a Soyuz ST-A rocket took off from the ELS (Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz) launchpad at the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana, according to NASA Spaceflight. It was the 114th and final orbital launch of 2020 that saw the Composante Spatiale Optique 2 (CSO-2) Earth observation satellite sent into orbit.
The launch saw French space agency Arianespace cooperate with Russian space agency Roscosmos to enhance the latter's rocket. A Soyuz 2.1a rocket was equipped with many European upgrades including but not limited to a European Safeguard Kit to turn the engines off if needed, European payload adapters, environmental protective measures to prevent ice build-ups, and vertical payload integration.
The modifications saw the Russian Soyuz 2.1a transformed into the final Soyuz ST-A. Now, the rocket was ready to launch a satellite into space.
The satellite was launched for the French Ministry of Defence and will be joining the CSO-1 that is already in orbit. In total, three CSO satellites are planned to replace the Helios 1 and 2 military observations systems.
This latest satellite was built by Airbus Defence and Space, with the French arm of Thales Alenia Space providing the optical imaging instrument. It will soon be joined by the CSO-3 satellite which will travel on the upcoming Ariane 6 rocket.
Once in space, CSO-1 and -3 will rest in 800 km Sun-synchronous orbits while CSO-2 will go into a much lower 480 km Sun-synchronous orbit. This is because different satellites perform different tasks.
CSO-1 and -3 will perform reconnaissance operations while CSO-2 will gather high-resolution imagery both visual and infrared. The satellites will be accessible to several other European partners despite being designed and operated by France.