Soyuz launches cluster of 28 satellites

A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East at 0207 GMT Thursday (9:07 p.m. EST Wednesday) carrying 28 satellites, including a pair of Russian remote sensing satellites and secondary payloads from Germany, Japan, Spain South Africa, and a dozen Earth-observing CubeSats and eight commercial weather payloads for Planet and Spire.

The Kanopus-V 5 and 6 Earth observation satellites will assist the Russian government in disaster response, mapping and forest fire detection. They are the biggest payloads riding to space on the Soyuz-2.1a booster, and will be joined by 26 other spacecraft under a rideshare arrangement booked by Glavkosmos, a company that sells Russian launch services on the global commercial market.

The launch Thursday occurred at 11:07:18 a.m. local time at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, located in Russia’s Amur region near the country’s border with China. The Soyuz flight was the fourth launch from Vostochny since the new spaceport entered service in 2016, and the 17th space mission to lift off from a Russian-operated launch base this year.

It was also the 16th launch of a variant of Russia’s venerable Soyuz rocket this year from Russian spaceports and the Guiana Space Center in South America, and all but one have been successful. No more Russian launches are expected before the end of the year.

After heading towards the north-northwest from Vostochny, the Soyuz-2.1a rocket released a Fregat upper stage to less than 10 minutes after liftoff to begin a series of maneuvers to deploy the 28 satellites into three different orbits several hundred miles above Earth.

The two Kanopus satellites were scheduled to separate from the Fregat upper stage at 0306 GMT (10:06 p.m. EST) and 0312 GMT (10:12 p.m. EST) — roughly an hour after liftoff — followed by more Fregat engine firings to release the 26 secondary payloads in a carefully-choreographed sequence at approximately 0430 GMT (11:30 p.m. EST) and 0625 GMT (1:25 a.m. EST), according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

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