Next launch of the Rokot launch vehicle postponed

Launch of three Gonets satellites planned for the mid-2016 was postponed by Roscosmos to end of the year.

It seems that one from two additional launches of Rokot launch vehicle contracted and announced in February by Roscosmos will be postponed to the end of 2016. Second launch, which was planned for 2018, probably will be performed according to schedule but there are also planned changes in time table. Both missions are covering delivering to LEO three (six in total) Gonets-M satellites from Plesetsk Cosmodrome placed in Mirny, Arkhangelsk Oblast (800 km north from Moscow). In February it was announced that these missions will be last contracted by Russian government for operator of Rokot carrier rocket, Eurockot. Roscosmos would like to replace Rokot with modern Angara launch vehicle in 1.2 version in future. At June 6, 2016, TASS news agency quoted anonymous source close to Russian space industry, who described situation with postponing launch as result of "rocket unpreparedness" without giving additional details. It is quite strange because two days before at 4 June 2016 Rokot lifted to orbit GEO-IT-2 satellite without any problems. Same source claimed also that two missions of Rokot, both with three Gonets-M satellites, were scheduled for 2016 what stands in the opposition to previous plans of launching second group of Gonets-M in 2018. Rokot which is rocket operated by joint-venture company Eurockot Launch Services GmbH remains in service since its first mission in 2000. Company is owned by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center with 49% of shares and EADS Astrium with 51% of shares. Using 45 decommissioned UR-100N ICBM from Russian Strategic Forces is commercial launch service provider; since first mission in 2000, Eurockot was launch service provider for Russian government, ESA, Japanese Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer (USEF) and Iridium with 24 successful missions and two failures. In spite of Gonets-M missions in 2016 and 2017 Eurockot has already scheduled two other launches in nearest future. They are both contracted for ESA: on 31st October 2016 with Sentinel-5P and on April 2017 with Sentinel-2B.

Gonets-M satellites are constellation of civilian communication spacecrafts placed on Low Earth Orbit. They are operated by Gonets SatCom, subsidiary of ISS Reshetnev. Company is offering communication services with 2.4 Kbps uplink and 9.6 Kbps downlink. Communication is performed with utilization of modem terminals designed by ISS Reshetnev on following frequencies: 259.5-265.2 MHz, 387-390 MHz and 1541.0-1541.9 MHz for downlink and 312-315 MHz and 1624.5-1643.4 MHz for uplink. First two experimental satellites, Gonets-D, were launched on 1992 from Plesetsk on atop of Tsyklon-3 rocket. First operational Gonets from D1 generation was delivered to LEO on 19 February 1996 and since now 12 satellites remain in service: 11 Gonets-M and one Gonets-D1. Satellites are manufactured and were designed by NPO Prikladnoi Mekhaniki. They are able to remain in service for five years. They weigh from 233 kg to 280 kg and are powered by Nickel/Hydrogen batteries combined with folding solar panels providing 40 w of power. Satellites are equipped with UHF transponders.

Consolidation of Russian space industry after transforming Roscosmos into state corporation is still in progress. Russian government would like to avoid keeping any potential competitors for Roscosmos in Russia or in their zone of interests. Finishing cooperation with Ukraine was quite obvious after Crimean crisis, but Eurockot is still operating and could be competition for strongly promoted Angara launch vehicle. Of course Russian government has not possibility to force ESA to left Eurockot but leaving this company without government contracts which were significant source of income has rather obvious objective. For Russia simply there is no point to share income with EADS Astrium if same launches could be performed by Roscosmos.