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Fresh Glonass navigation satellite launched by Russia

Posted: March 23, 2014

Russia launched a Soyuz rocket Sunday with a fresh satellite for the country's Glonass navigation system, which broadcasts positioning and timing signals to Russian military forces and civilian users worldwide.

File image of a previous Soyuz launch with a Glonass navigation satellite. Photo credit: Roscosmos
The Soyuz 2-1b rocket lifted off at 2254 GMT (6:54 p.m. EDT) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a military-run facility in the Arkhangelsk region about 500 miles north of Moscow.

After a nine-minute ascent powered by the Soyuz rocket's three kerosene-fueled core stages, a Fregat upper stage fired its engine three times to boost the mission's Glonass navigation payload into a 12,000-mile-high orbit.

The Fregat upper stage released the 3,119-pound Glonass M satellite at 0226 GMT Monday (10:26 p.m. EDT Sunday), according to the Interfax news agency

A spokesperson with the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces told Interfax the spacecraft was communicating with ground controllers and functioning normally.

The Glonass M satellite, designated No. 54 in the Glonass fleet, was manufactured by ISS Reshetnev and is designed for a seven-year operational life.

According to a ISS Reshetnev press release issued in February, five Glonass satellites are scheduled for launch in 2014, including the payload launched Sunday.

The Glonass M satellite before shipment to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in February. Photo credit: ISS Reshetnev
Two of the satellites were scheduled to launch solo aboard Soyuz rockets. Three Glonass spacecraft were planned for launch together on one Proton rocket, according to the ISS Reshetnev statement.

Sunday's launch was the first of a Glonass satellite since three Russian navigation spacecraft were lost in a Proton launch failure in July 2013.

The Glonass constellation is scattered among three orbital planes, each designed to contain eight satellites to maximize coverage around the world. Russia says it needs 24 operational satellites to maintain worldwide service.

Russia initiated a satellite replenishment program to mend the fragmented Glonass fleet after a funding crisis in the 1990s rendered the Soviet-era program unable to provide even limited coverage of Russian territory.

As of March 23, the Glonass system comprised 28 satellites in orbit, including 24 operational spacecraft, three spares, and one platform in a flight testing phase, according to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Artist's concept of the Glonass navigation system. Photo credit: Roscosmos
The Glonass navigation system is Russia's counterpart to the U.S. Air Force's GPS network. The Glonass and GPS fleets are the only positioning systems to provide global service.

Europe plans to continue deployment of the Galileo navigation network with launches of up to six satellites this year, eyeing worldwide navigation coverage within a few years.

China is also stepping up launches of Beidou navigation satellites, and India and Japan are working on regional positioning systems to augment GPS coverage over their territories.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.