Russia just lofted a military communications satellite, according to media reports.
A Soyuz rocket topped with a spacecraft called Meridian-M launched today (March 22) from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia, rising off the pad at 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT), according to the state-owned news agency Ria Novosti, which cited Russian military officials.
“Satellites of the ‘Meridian’ series provide communication between sea vessels and ice reconnaissance aircraft in the area of the Northern Sea Route with coastal and ground stations,” Ria Novosti wrote (in Russian; translation provided by Google). “Also, the devices expand the capabilities of satellite communication stations in the northern regions of Siberia and the Far East.”
Today’s launch was the second that Russia has performed since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24. On March 18, a Soyuz launched from the Russia-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov to the International Space Station.
The trio entered the orbiting lab a few hours later wearing yellow-and-blue flight suits, the national colors of Ukraine. This prompted some people to speculate that the cosmonauts may have been expressing support for the invaded nation. Russian space officials have dismissed that interpretation, however.
There was supposed to be another liftoff from Baikonur this month as well; a Soyuz operated by French company Arianespace was scheduled to launch 36 internet satellites for the London-based company OneWeb on March 4.
But Russia’s federal space agency, Roscosmos, demanded that OneWeb guarantee that its satellites wouldn’t be used for military purposes and that the United Kingdom divest itself from OneWeb, which it helped buy out of bankruptcy in 2020. Those demands were not met, and the Soyuz was taken off the pad shortly before liftoff.
OneWeb has already found another way to get its satellites up, however. On Monday (March 21), the company announced that it has signed a launch deal with SpaceX.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.