Russia launched a Glonass navigation satellite Saturday on top of a Soyuz rocket, releasing the spacecraft into orbit about 12,000 miles above Earth three-and-a-half hours later.
The Soyuz 2-1b rocket, crowned with a Russian Fregat upper stage, lifted off at 1716 GMT (1:16 p.m. EDT) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome 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 Freget upper stage released the Glonass M spacecraft at 2053 GMT (4:53 p.m. EDT), and ground controllers established contact with the satellite as planned, according to a report by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.
With a launch mass of 1,415 kilograms, or about 3,100 pounds, the satellite is designated No. 55 in the Glonass fleet and was manufactured by ISS Reshetnev. It is designed for a seven-year lifetime in orbit.
"According to the telemetry received from Glonass M No. 55, the satellite is in good health, all its mechanical subsystems have deployed normally, sun and Earth acquisition have been performed as designed," ISS Reshetnev said in a press release.
Saturday’s Soyuz flight was the second launch of a Glonass navigation satellite this year.
The Glonass payload launched Saturday into the navigation system’s third orbital plane to provide positioning services from orbital slot No. 21, according to Reshetnev.
The Glonass system has satellites in three orbital planes, each with eight spacecraft. Russia says it needs 24 operational satellites to maintain worldwide service.
Operated by the Russian military, the Glonass system broadcasts navigation signals to Russian military and civilian users around the world. It is Russia’s counterpart to the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System.
As of June 14, the Glonass system comprised 29 satellites in orbit, including 24 operational spacecraft, two spares, two satellites undergoing checks by their contractor, and one platform in a flight testing phase, according to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.
The new satellite launched Saturday will enter service within a few weeks, officials said. It will transmit an experimental navigation signal in the L3 frequency band, in addition to the standard L1 and L2 signals.
Three more Glonass M spacecraft are set for launch before the end of 2014, according to ISS Reshetnev.