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Russian military payload launched on Soyuz rocket

Posted: November 2, 2010

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A Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage successfully launched a Russian military communications satellite Tuesday to a high-altitude orbit above Earth.

The venerable expendable booster, upgraded with digital control systems and improved engines, blasted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia 0059 GMT Tuesday (8:59 p.m. EDT Monday).

The three-stage Soyuz 2-1a vehicle finished its role in the launch within 10 minutes, giving way to a Fregat upper stage to fire several times to place the Meridian communications payload in the planned orbit.

The Meridian spacecraft will circle Earth in a highly-inclined egg-shaped orbit with a high point stretching nearly 25,000 miles above the planet.

This high-altitude perch, commonly called a Molniya orbit, allows satellites to stay in view of Russian territory for several hours during each circuit around the planet. Satellites in this type of orbit cover polar regions, areas out of reach of many traditional communications spacecraft in equatorial orbits.

The Soyuz and Fregat launch went "according to plan," the Meridian satellite's contractor, ISS Reshetnev, said in a statement Tuesday.

According to the company's website, the first communications session with the Meridian spacecraft was successful and all systems were functioning properly in the hours after launch.

It was the third Meridian satellite launched since 2006. The Meridian satellites are replacements for Molniya communications satellites providing coverage of high latitude polar regions of Russia.