Russia has launched its Soyuz 2-1A rocket in a surprise mission from the Plesetsk cosmodrome at 15:24 UTC. The launch, using a rocket that recently failed during the Progress M-27M mission, was clouded under secrecy due to its payload, the Kobalt-M spy satellite – rumored to be the final film-return photo reconnaissance spacecraft.
Soyuz 2-1A Launch:
The Soyuz 2-1 rocket is derived from the earlier Soyuz-U and the Soyuz 11A511 before that – and first flew in November 2004.
The rocket was intended as an eventual replacement for all of the Soyuz and Molniya variants then in service.
The Molniya-M was retired from service in 2010 and the Soyuz-2 has already replaced the Soyuz-U for all launches apart from Progress missions to the International Space Station.
The payload – the Kobalt-M – is classed as a modernized version of the Yantar spacecraft. It is understood to be a military reconnaissance spacecraft by nature.
The spacecraft was developed by TsSKB Progress of Samara and manufactured by OAO Arsenal of St Petersburg.
The design of the spacecraft is such that it has two small capsules on board, allowing it to return film back to Earth inside the main – cone-shaped – reentry vehicle.
Kobalt-M satellites are typically launched into the 170 by 370-kilometer orbits with the inclination 62.8 – 67.2 degrees toward the Equator.
Very little is known about the spacecraft, given its military nature. However, previous mission information has provided some insight into the mission length for the spacecraft.
Full article: Russia conducts surprise Soyuz 2-1A launch carrying Kobalt-M (NASA Spaceflight)