Soyuz will launch the Gonets trio, the Skif-D proto-satellite

Soyuz launches the Gonets trio,
Skif-D proto-satellite

A Soyuz-2 rocket will carry three new satellites for the Gonests-M communications network, as well as an experimental version of the next-generation Skif-D satellite on October 22. This will be the first mission of 2022 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome.


The 18th Gonets-M mission in brief:

Gonets-M No. 33, 34, 35 (Block 18), Skif-D
launch vehicle
Payload fairing


launch site
Launch date and time

2022 October 22, 10:57 p.m. Moscow time (planned)

The last mission of the Gonets

sat down

According to the first plans, the 18th trio of Gonets communications satellites, including vehicles No. 33, 34 and 35 (collectively known as Block 18), would be launched from Plesetsk on the Angara-1.2 rocket sometime after delivery planned for this rocket by a contractual deadline of October 15, 2021. Roscosmos allocated 2.278 billion rubles for this purpose at the beginning of 2019 and awarded a contract to GKNPTs Khrunichev on July 25 of the same year for the adaptation of the Gonets satellite with the Angara- 1.2 vehicle.

In the ongoing Gonets constellation deployment, Angara-1.2 would replace the Rockot booster, converted from a Soviet-era UR-100NU ballistic missile and using Ukrainian-made electronics. However, continued delays in Angara fabrication in 2019 (INSIDER CONTENT) forced Roscosmos to switch Block 18 to the Soyuz-2.1b series, which was clearly oversized for the task, although its launch came at a price. from “only” 1.345 billion rubles. . Roscosmos apparently planned to use this excess capacity on the Soyuz to superimpose commercial payloads, but since most of these customers at the time had to come from abroad, the Russian Ministry of Defense banned all commercial missions from its classified launch site in Plesetsk.

As a result, on October 30, 2021, Roscosmos canceled its contract with Khrunichev, making Block 18 the third group of Gonets satellites flying on Soyuz and the first to be launched from Vostochny, instead of Plesetsk. This latest change required the relocation of pre-launch test equipment for the Gonets satellites to the new spaceport. In November 2019, Roscosmos claims that Block 18 would still fly in 2021, however, the supply order for the Soyuz-2-1b rocket issued in December 2019, set a deadline for delivery of the vehicle before November 15, 2022.

At the start of 2022, the Gonets-D1M low-orbit communications network would consist of 15 satellites. The satellites making up the Block 18 trio would have been assembled and tested in November 2021. Pending their launch at the end of 2022, the satellites spent a few months in storage. At the time, Roscosmos also planned to launch three more Gonets-M satellites in 2024, followed by another trio in 2025.

The Gonets 2022 mission also received an additional task of deploying the Skif-D test spacecraft for the future Russian Internet constellation. In addition, several other superimposed payloads, including in cube-sat format, such as ArcCube-01, ASRTU-1 and MKA MFTI would have been candidates for the mission. The group’s last spacecraft was intended for experiments in laser communications. In the end, none of the secondary payloads, with the exception of Skif-D, were embarked.

Three Gonets-M satellites weighing 280 kilograms each, plus the 200-kilogram Skif-D, brought the total payload mass carried by the rocket to more than a ton, according to Roscosmos.

The mission also marked the first employment on the Soyuz-2 rocket family of a different version of kerosene known in Russia as “naftil”. To this end, the Soyuz ground infrastructure refueling systems at Vostochny underwent some upgrades, culminating in a series of autonomous tests in December 2021. Five days due to additional checks.

Skif-D experimental satellite


Known Skif-D Specifications:

Spacecraft mass

~200 kilograms

Solar panel area

1.65 square meters

Food at the end of service

about 200 watts

Projected life

3 years


Near polar, 8,070 kilometers

The Skif-D No. 11L satellite, where “D” stands for “demonstrator”, is a prototype of the first Russian satellite for broadband Internet access in remote areas, such as the Arctic regions of Russia. The system was designed as an alternative to the European o3b constellation. Each of the 12 spacecraft making up the Skif network had to be able to transmit up to 100 gigabits of Internet data per second.

According to ISS Reshetnev, which developed the Skif system, the demonstration spacecraft was intended to test key technologies of standard satellites, which were to operate in mid-altitude circular orbits at 8,070 kilometers from Earth and inclined at 88 .2 degrees towards the equator. Skif-D would probe the feasibility of the chosen orbit in terms of radiation levels and stability. The satellite also carried some prototype Skif network systems, including the Ka-band transmitter and receiver.

A perhaps even more important role for Skif-D would be to secure the radio frequency reserved for Russia, which would be made available to other customers by the International Telecommunication Union, ITU, if not used. before the 2022 deadline. Under the same rules, at least 10% of the Skif system should be deployed by 2024, although in 2022 the first six operational satellites of the Skif constellation were not due to fly until 2027 and the second sextuplet wouldn’t be in space until at least 2029.

If ever completed, the Skif system was to be operated by the Sputnikovaya Sistema Gonets organization and Zond Holding.

The first studies of the Skif design were launched at ISS Reshetnev in the second half of 2020 and in April 2021 the company announced that it had started development of working documentation for the experimental Skif-D satellite. The official technical mission for the spacecraft was released in June 2021.

On December 8, 2021, Roscosmos awarded the ISS Reshetnev a contract for the preliminary design of the Skif system.


At the end of 2021, Reshetnev sent solar panel structures for Skif-D to AO Saturn in the city of Krasnodar for the installation of their photovoltaic elements, with an expected return date of May 2022. At the time, the launch of the spacecraft was promised in the fourth quarter of 2022.

According to ISS Reshetnev, the latest Western sanctions, introduced against Russia in the spring of 2022, forced the company to urgently replace some service module components and the satellite’s instrument payloads with Russian-made hardware. Final assembly of the satellite was reported in mid-summer 2022. At the time, satellite shipment to Vostochny was scheduled for late September 2022.

Launch preparations

The mission’s Fregat stage was delivered to Vostochny in early August 2022, and the trio of Gonets satellites were delivered to Ignatievo airfield near Vostochny aboard an Il-76 aircraft on September 14, 2022. The satellite Skif-D was delivered to Vostochny on September 29, 2022, via the same route. Assembly of the payload section of the vehicle was completed on October 13 and it was integrated into the launch vehicle on October 18.

On the same day, the State Commission overseeing the campaign gave the go-ahead for the deployment of the vehicle to the launch pad, which took place on the morning of October 19, 2022.

Profile of ascent

A Soyuz-2-1B/Fregat rocket is scheduled to lift off from Pad 1S in Vostochny on October 22, 2022 at 10:57 p.m. Moscow time (3:57 p.m. EDT). (It will be October 23 local time at the launch site in the Russian Far East.)

Under a standard Soyuz/Fregat vehicle launch profile, the rocket’s first, second, and third stages are expected to accelerate the Fregat fourth stage and its payload to near-orbital speed, while heading north- west across eastern Russia and the Arctic Ocean. .

After separation from the third stage, the Fregat will fire its own main engine to enter an initial orbit, followed by a period of passive flight before the final maneuver to reach the target orbit.

Gonets-M satellites are normally delivered in an orbit of 1,400 kilometers with an inclination of 82.5 degrees towards the equator. The complementary payload, in this case the experimental Skif-D satellite, will probably separate from the Fregat sometimes after the release of the Gonets trio.

According to Roscosmos, the delivery of the payload was to be completed 4 hours 8 minutes after liftoff.

Following the separation of its payloads, the Fregat upper stage is usually programmed to perform additional maneuvers to enter a storage trajectory.

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