On Mar. 29, 2023, at 19:57 UTC, the launch of Soyuz 2.1v from Russian space forces, took place at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The Soyuz 2.1v, a light launcher of the Soyuz 2 family, carried a small observation satellite called EMKA and designated Kosmos 2561.
The Soyuz 2.1v is a particular version for launching small payloads in the LEO and in the SSO, which is part of the Soyuz 2 family of launchers. As we know, the Soyuz 2 is the heir of the Soyuz U, in turn descending from that family of launchers that was born, in 1957, with the R7 Semjorka—Sputnik’s.
Unlike the heavier versions 2.1a (intended for launching Soyuz and Progress) and 2.1b (intended for launching satellites also in the Soyuz ST sub-variant, specific for equatorial launches), it is a two-stage. It doesn’t use the classic four sideblocks in the first stage, where it features a single NK-33 engine, just the engine that would have been the breakthrough in the use of the N1 lunar launcher, although a version equipped with an RD-193 was tested, in turn, derived from the Energhia RD170.
About the payload, it is the fourth aircraft in this series to provide an image monitoring service for use by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. But let’s see in detail what it is.
It is a project that dates back to October 2015. At that time, the Ministry of Defense drafted a protocol for an optical recognition system based on a miniaturized satellite capable of a minimum resolution of fewer than 10 meters. To use a comparison, the previous system was the Kanopus V, weighing 450 kg with a resolution ranging from a minimum of 10.5 meters to a maximum of 2.1.
The new system, dubbed EMKA (from the Russian Eksperimentalny Maly Kosmichesky Apparat, i.e. Small Experimental Space Apparatus), would have had far better characteristics: Weight of 250 Kg, minimum resolution of 3.6 meters, and a maximum of 0.6.
Since the first launch on March 29, 2018, four EMKAs have been launched, including the one that went into orbit on March 29, 2023. They have an operational life of 5 years and will enter the synchronous solar orbit at 279 x 294 km inclined at 95°. Three of these used the Soyuz 2.1v launcher while the third example was launched on 3/29/2022 from an Angara 1.2.
A military secret
But there is a small mystery: If the first EMKA, called Kosmos 2525, carried out its mission as planned, both the second, called Kosmos 2551 and launched on October 9, 2021, and the third, called Kosmos 2555, re-entered the atmosphere without, apparently, attempting any apogee correction maneuver. Around the end of May 2022, a few days after the re-entry of Kosmos 2555, the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine reported that both EMKAs served as targets for the Peresvet anti-satellite laser system and, just in those days, Yuri Borisov, a deputy at the time prime minister (now head of Roscosmos), issued a statement about the development of laser weapons aimed at blinding hostile satellites.
Will Kosmos 2561 be one of these target satellites? We’ll find out in the next few days.