Russian Weather Satellite, 18 Others Lost in Soyuz Launch Failure

Russian Weather Satellite, 18 Others Lost in Soyuz Launch Failure

Russia’s launch of a new weather satellite, Meteor M2-1, failed earlier today apparently due to an upper stage malfunction.  Russia’s space state corporation, Roscosmos, announced that it is unable to communicate with the satellite because it is not in its intended orbit.  Also lost are 18 cubesats/smallsats, including 10 Lemur-2 satellites for Spire Global.

The launch at 12:41:46 am Eastern Standard Time from Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome in Siberia went well initially.  The launch was broadcast live on TsENKI television and Roscosmos tweeted throughout the initial phases.

But three and a half hours later, Roscosmos revealed that Meteor M2-1 was not in its intended orbit.

This was just the second launch from Vostochny, whose delays in construction have been the source of intense frustration for Roscosmos and top Russian politicians including Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The first launch was a year and a half ago.

Today, the three stages of the Soyuz 2.1b rocket seemed to function correctly.  Roscosmos said the Fregat upper stage and Meteor M2-1 satellite reached their intermediate orbit, but when ground controllers attempted to communicate with Meteor M2-1, it was not where it was supposed to be.

Fregat was designed to fire seven times, first to put Meteor M2-1 into its proper orbit, then five more times to place the other 18 satellites into their orbits, and a final burn to deorbit the stage according to Stephen Clark at

An investigation is underway, but Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that “human error in the pre-programmed flight sequence could have placed the Fregat upper stage into the wrong orientation during its first maneuver,” according to Anatoly Zak at  That would have sent Fregat and its satellites down — to burn up in the atmosphere — instead of up into orbit.

Soyuz 2.1b is one of several variants of the workhorse Soyuz launch vehicle family (Soyuz is also the name of the spacecraft that ferries crews to and from the International Space Station).  Other versions are used to launch crews and Progress cargo spacecraft to ISS. The Fregat upper stage is used with various Russian rockets.

Russia has experienced an unusual number of launch failures since December 2010, some of which has been other versions of the Soyuz.

Meteor M2-1 is a 2,750 kilogram (kg) satellite designed to monitor global weather, the ozone layer, ocean surface temperature and ice conditions according to Zak.  It is the third in the Meteor-3M network.  The first two were launched in 2009 and 2014.  Zak and others list the 18 secondary payloads aboard the rocket as:

  • 10 Lemur-2 satellites for Spire Global’s remote sensing systems (each 4.5 kg)
  • two Corvus-BC-3 (Landmapper) remote sensing satellites for AstroDigital US Inc. (each 11 kg)
  • D-Star One communications satellite for German Orbital Systems (3 kg)
  • SEAM earth physics satellite for the Royal Technology Institute in Sweden (4.7 kg)
  • IDEA OSG-1 astronomy satellite for Astroscale Japan Inc (22 kg)
  • AISSat-3 navigation satellite for the Norwegian Space Centre (6.5 kg)
  • LEO Vantage communications satellite for Canada’s Telesat and the University of Toronto Institute for Space Studies (70 kg)
  • Baumanets 2 remote sensing satellite for Bauman University in Moscow (86 kg)

Peter de Selding of Space Intel Report tweeted that the Meteor M2-1 satellite was insured for $44.3 million, but the Spire satellites are not insured.

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