Russia launched a new military spacecraft that could be used over Ukraine

As it loses international partners in space.
Brad Bergan
An Angara-A5 rocket launch.ИА Военинформ / Wikimedia  

Despite numerous canceled international space collaborations, Russia's space launches are continuing.

And on April 28, Russia launched a new military spacecraft into geostationary orbit atop an Angara 1.2 rocket, according to an initial report from NASA Spaceflight.

It's rumored to be a radar satellite — and if its nature is related to military uses, there's little doubt it will soon be active over Ukraine airspace, as the nation attempts to solidify its post-invasion ambitions.

Russia launches a military payload atop an Angara 1.2 rocket

Little is known about the mission of Russia's newest spacecraft, but there are several possible payloads, including an advanced radar. So far, we can only confirm that it was dubbed Kosmos 2555 after its successful deployment from the launch vehicle.

Of course, the most likely scenario is a radar satellite designed specifically for the Russian military, in which case it's almost certainly slated for use in the current conflict with Ukraine — but this, too, is unconfirmed. It does, however, share a naming scheme and satellite bus with two 6U CubeSats called MKA-N 1 and 2. Both of these were launched atop a Soyuz in July of 2017.

But these satellites didn't reach their intended orbits, and never achieved communications with ground control. The new mission lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, and marked the first successful launch for the Angara 1.2 vehicle. A variant of that rocket, the Angara 1.2, was specifically built to carry payloads into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Its maximum payload is 8,377 lbs (3,800 kg) for LEO insertions, but its more versatile sister rocket, Angara A5, has carried most of the Angara missions to date. The April 28 launch was one of three slated for 2022, with another coming later this year from Roscosmos, and a final commercial one for South Korea.

Russia's last international payload is still on for South Korea

The Angara-A5 will launch in July, to lift the Ekspress-AMU communications satellite into geostationary orbit. These kinds of satellites are routine — having been first launched in October of 1994, and are managed by the Russian State Company for Satellite Communications.

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The last flight of 2022, for South Korea, will loft the KOMPSAT-6 — also called the Arirang-6, into orbit. This is a synthetic aperture radar satellite, designed to provide 1.6-ft (0.5-meter) levels of ground resolution.

However, since nearly every international partner has canceled upcoming launches with Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, the South Korea payload may also be subject to changes, or outright cancelation.

After this, the Angara won't fly again until December of 2023, when it's slated to lift the first uncrewed flight of Russia's Oriol crew capsule — in an early practice run for the nation's ambitions to land cosmonauts on the moon, for the first time. So while it may not make as many launches into space (nor as widespread and deep), Russia is still an active space power. And its ongoing central role as a major oil producer, sold in Rubles and crypto, could mean these launches will grow in frequency, in the coming decade.

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