The last month of 2006 was marked by several important events in life of the Russian Space Forces. In the middle of December, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the first state testing of the Defense Ministry’s Plesetsk cosmodrome. Putin got acquainted with infrastructure objectives and with the new military space equipment.
On December 22, a new radar station of high, ex-works readiness was put on combat duty within the early warning missile attack system. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was present at the official commissioning ceremony.
On December 24, the Soyuz-2.1a rocket was launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome with a payload for the fist time. Later, it placed the new communication satellite, Meridian, into orbit.
The Proton-K rocket was launched from Baikonur the next day and placed into orbit three Russian GLONASS-M system navigation satellites.
On December 27, a modernized Soyuz-2.1b rocket was launched from the same cosmodrome. This rocket placed the French research satellite, COROT, into orbit.
Representatives of the Space Forces say that the Soyuz-2 rocket is being developed by order of the Defense Ministry and Federal Space Agency to facilitate independent access to outer space and primarily for use by Russian military space programs.
The key characteristics of the new rocket (representing the most mass and reliable series of rockets based on the R-7 rocket of Sergei Korolev), are the use of only Russian components and its ability to place in orbit all medium class existing and planned payloads from the Russian cosmodrome of Plesetsk.
In the course of modernizing the Soyuz-2, designers improved the engines deployed in all stages of the rocket. This enables the designers to noticeably increase the payload and dimensions of the spacecraft placed in orbit. The upgrades also included the development of a new digital control system providing for precise delivery of payloads, the implementation of new remote measurement systems and the ability to use a booster (Fregat etc).
The rocket includes the world’s best characteristics in the class of rockets which burn kerosene and pressurized oxygen. For the first time the rocket was equipped with the fundamentally new RD-01124 engine, which will increase the payload capacity of the rocket by 1 ton, compared to the Soyuz versions now used.
The anticipated launch of Soyuz-2.1b rocket from Plesetsk is scheduled for the summer of 2007.
In combination with the Fregat booster, the Soyuz-2 rocket will become the main vehicle for placing spacecraft in low circular and high elliptical orbits for the next 10-15 years.
One of modifications of Soyuz-2 will also be used for launching payloads from the Guiana space center (Courou, French Guiana) within a multiparty project between the Russian Federal Space Agency, Progress, Starsem, EADS and Arianespace.