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Russia’s Meteor-M Programme Continues Under Sanctions

The Russian Federation has succeeded in launching the Meteor-M 2-3, a new satellite in a bid to upgrade its meteorological satellite system. The launch, performed on June 27, also carried dozens of smaller satellite devices into orbit. However, this was Russia’s mere ninth orbital mission for the year – a stark contrast with China and the USA’s 20 and 51 respective launches during the same period.

The launch of the Soyuz 2.1b rocket, which carried the payload, took place at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region of Eastern Russia. This marked the maiden flight to utilise a modernised version of the Fregat upper stage.

The Meteor-M 2-3 launch is part of a programme that originated in the 1960s. The 2,750 kg satellite, created by VNIIEM Corporation – a part of Roscosmos, is the third second-generation Meteor-M satellite. The satellite’s payload includes six instruments, such as a low-resolution multispectral scanner for cloud mapping (MSU-MR) and a unit for capturing finer images of smaller areas in visible light (KMSS-2).

Meteor-M 2-3’s primary objectives are broad, including climate and environmental surveillance, exploration of Earth’s natural resources, solar activity monitoring near Earth, and automated data collection. The satellite also houses the COSPAS-SARSAT search and rescue system. Designed for a minimum operational life of 5 years, the satellite is a significant component of the ongoing modernisation of Russia’s weather satellite system.

Additionally, the payload comprised 42 smaller satellite units, including 16 university CubeSat 16U nanosatellites, 9 UniverSat satellites for educational and scientific purposes, and 17 devices launched for commercial customers in Russia and abroad.

This launch follows the loss of Meteor-M no. 2-1 in 2017 due to an upper stage issue, and the successful launch of Meteor-M no. 2-2 in 2019.

The limited number of orbital missions carried out by Russia this year is in part due to the sanctions imposed on the country, which have significantly impacted the capabilities of the Russian space sector, slowing its development. Another notable example of this impact is the delay of Russia’s inaugural modern lunar mission, which was initially set to be executed in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). However, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ESA is currently reassessing its joint projects with Russia.

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