Soyuz rocket launching from the pad

Gonets-M30, Gonets-M31, Gonets-M32 | Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat-M

Launch Time
(Subject to change)
December 3, 2020 – 01:14:36 UTC | 04:14:36 MSK
Mission Name
Gonets-M30, Gonets-M31, Gonets-M32
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
(Who’s paying for this?)
Gonets Satellite System company
Soyuz 2.1B with Fregat Upper Stage
Launch Location
Site 43/3, Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia
Payload mass
About 840 kg (1850 lbs)
Where are the satellites going?
Low Earth Orbit (LEO)
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No. This is not a capability of Roscosmos.
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
No. This is not a capability of Roscosmos.
Are these fairings new?
How’s the weather looking?
This will be the:
– 110th Soyuz 2 launch ever
– 100th orbital launch attempt of 2020
Where to watch
No livestream available at this time

What’s all this mean?

Yet another launch to add to the Russian communications satellite constellation, Gonets will be taking place on the 3rd of December. The three satellites will launch on board of Soyuz 2.1B rocket into Low Earth Orbit.

In the English language, Gonets translates to “Messenger” which is a fitting name considering its duties. All of these satellites will be accessible to civilians but have close hardware connections with military Strela satellites. Strela translates to “Arrow” in English and the system has been in place since the mid-1960s. The Gonets system was not put in place until the mid-1990s and so far have had ten operational and two demonstration satellites placed in orbit.

The Gonets Satellite System

This system was originally designed and operated by Roscomos. However, in later years it became a private company as Gonets Satellite System. Two generations of Gonets satellites exist and are operational, the first generation, “Gonets D1” and the second “Gonets M”. Only one first-generation Gonets satellite is currently still operational. The other 11 are all Gonets-M satellites. This mission will launch three more of these satellites.

A Gonets M satellite during production. There are currently 9 waiting for launch, 3 will be sent up with this launch. (Credit: ISS Reshetnev)

How are Gonets satellites used?

As mentioned previously, these are civilian accessible satellites, meaning that they can be accessed by people who have no special clearance. Subscribers to the system can access it from many locations across the world including Kenya, Vietnam, Brazil and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! With this system, each satellite can have an accuracy of 100 meters for users on the ground.

Illustration of the multiple orbital inclinations the Gonets Satellite System is one to achieve global coverage. (Credit: NPO PM)

Gonets Specifics

Each Gonets satellite weighs around 250 kg (550 lbs) and will be operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). For power, they use the Sun and collect that energy through four 40 watt solar panels positioned on two separate arms of the vehicle. The on board Nickel-Hydrogen batteries store the generated power for the communications equipment. Speaking of communication equipment, each satellite is equipped with D and B-band Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) transponders with a max data rate of 64 kb/s.

Illustration of the fully deployed Gonets satellite. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Being communication satellites, their ability to receive and transmit information is highly important. The entire system is able to provide global coverage. They provide a total of 16 channels, 14 for upload and 2 for download. An onboard 8MB memory can store data and can handle 2.4 to 9.6 kb/sec upload speed and 4.8 to 6.4 kb/sec download speed.


Introduced in 1966, the Soyuz rocket (also known as R7) has been the workhorse of the Soviet/Russian space program. The first launch of the Soyuz 2.1a version on November 8, 2004 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome represented a major step in the Soyuz launch vehicle’s development program. Fregat is the upper (4th) stage of Soyuz 2.1, and it first flew in the year 2000.

Evolution of the R7 / Soyuz rocket family
Evolution of the R7 / Soyuz rocket family (Credit: NASA / Peter Gorin / Emmanuel Dissais)

The Soyuz version currently being used for most satellite launches (as distinct from crewed capsules or cargo capsules to the ISS) is a four-stage launch vehicle, which consists of:

  • four side boosters (booster stage)
  • a central core booster (first stage, which is lit at the same time as the side boosters, on the ground)
  • an upper (central) stage which is common to all Soyuz rockets regardless of payload
  • the re-startable Fregat “upper” stage (fourth stage) – this is not always used, for example it is not used with Soyuz spacecraft or Progress spacecraft


The side boosters’ RD-107A engines are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, which are the same propellants used on each of the rocket stages. The kerosene tanks are located in the cylindrical part and the liquid oxygen tanks in the conical section. Each engine has four combustion chambers and four nozzles.

During side booster separation, the boosters perform a well-known pattern, in which they peel off and cartwheel outwards! This is known as the “Korolev cross,” which is named after Sergei Korolev, the Chief Design Engineer of the USSR space program in the 1960s.

Korolev cross during side booster stage separation on a Soyuz launch
“Korolev cross” seen during side booster stage separation on a Soyuz launch.


The center core is fitted with an RD-108A engine, and also has four combustion chambers and four nozzles. It also has four Vernier thrusters, used for three-axis flight control once the side boosters have separated. The third stage engine’s thrust enables the stage to separate directly from the central core. This is called “hot staging.”


The third stage uses either an RD-0110 engine in the Soyuz ST-A (2.1a) version or an RD-0124 engine in the ST-B (2.1b) version. This flight is using a 2.1b vehicle, so in this case, the stage has an RD-0124 engine.

RD-0124 motor at Salon-du-Bourget 2013. (Credit: Pline)


Flight qualified in 2000, the Fregat upper stage is an autonomous and flexible stage that is designed to operate as an orbital vehicle. It extends the Soyuz launcher’s capability, now covering a full range of orbits (LEO, SSO, MEO, GTO, GEO and Earth escape). Fregat is independent of all the other stages, as it has its own guidance, navigation, attitude control, tracking, and telemetry systems. The engine burns storable propellants – UDMH (unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine) and NTO (nitrogen tetroxide) – and can be restarted up to 50 times in flight so that it can carry out very complex missions.

The Fregat upper stage is encapsulated in a fairing with the payload and a payload adaptor/dispenser. It is entirely independent from the rest of the rocket, having its own systems on board for guidance, navigation and control. It also provides its own telemetry data back to the ground.

Fregat uses the S5.92 engine, which uses unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) for fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (NO4) for oxidizer. The propellent is hypergolic, which means they combust on contact. The fuel and oxidizer will combust as soon as they meet in the combustion chamber.

1 comment
  1. Tim. Ypur opinion on how the Russian space program is going to be, is already affected by the recent firings and jailings? Is the apparent level of illegal actions over there something they will quickly recover from (or simply ignore publicly)?

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