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Russia to launch its flagship Earth-watching satellite

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Dec 26, 2014, 16:00 UTC

Sen—The Soyuz rocket family should complete its very busy year Friday launching the newest imaging satellite for the Russian civilian space agency, Roscosmos.

The liftoff of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket is scheduled for 26 December 2014, at 21:28 Moscow Time (18:28 UTC) from Site 31 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The three-stage booster will be carrying the Resurs-P2 satellite designed to produce and transmit back to Earth high-resolution photos of our planet's surface revealing details as small as one meter in size.

Resurs-P2 is a near sibling of its predecessor, Resurs-P1, which was launched in June of last year. Both spacecraft are also believed to be cousins of Russia's classified spy satellites operated by the Ministry of Defense. The entire family of this type of spacecraft is developed at RKTs Progress based in the city of Samara, the same industrial conglomerate that also builds Soyuz rockets.

The launch of Resurs-P2 further bolsters the ever-growing Russian constellation of Earth-watching satellites, which essentially decayed during the post-Soviet economic collapse and had to be rebuilt almost from scratch. The last few years saw a major resurgence of the nation's capabilities in the field, including the launch of a Russian-built spy satellite for Egypt, which can also discern details as small as one meter in size. Russia also orbited its first pair of radar-carrying satellites capable of snapping all-weather, day-and-night images.

Although Russian efforts from the beginning of 1990s to commercially market satellite imagery had largely faltered, the nation's industry managed to get outside funding by attracting a direct participation of foreign governments in the development of remote-sensing spacecraft. Along with Egypt, countries such as South Africa and the former Soviet republic of Belarus are known to be among the clients directly involved in the use and operation of Russian-built remote-sensing satellites. 

Resurs-P2 is expected to be followed by yet another similar spacecraft next year.  

In addition to its powerful telescope, Resurs-P2 also carries a detector developed by Russia's leading nuclear physics institution for registering high-energy particles from space, as well as an Automated Identification System (AIS) for sea vessels.

With the launch of Resurs-P2, the Soyuz family of rockets will log a total of 22 missions during 2014. Russia still plans to fly a Proton rocket before the end of the year.