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Lightning Strikes Russian Soyuz Rocket During Satellite Launch

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Lightning struck the Soyuz-2-1b rocket shortly after the launch vehicle's liftoff. No damage happened and the rocket was able to deliver its payload — a replenishment satellite for Russia's orbital navigation network in mid-Earth orbit.  ( Dmitry Rogozin | Twitter )

Russia's Soyuz rocket has successfully launched a navigation satellite GLONASS-M despite being hit by lightning. It was the 58th mission to maintain the GLONASS orbital navigation network.

When Lightning Strikes A Rocket

On May 27 at 9:23 a.m. Moscow time, the Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifted off from launching Pad 4, Site 43 into rainy skies over the Plesetsk Cosmodrome spaceport in northern Russia.

During the launch, lightning struck the nose fairing and the third stage of the carrier rocket. The bizarre happening was recorded by telemetric data transmitted from the rocket to the ground-based control center. Video footage released after the launch showed lightning striking the ascending rocket and the tip of the lightning pole on the launch pad, from which the rocket lifted off a few seconds earlier.

All the rocket equipment worked in normal condition, and the satellite was delivered into its destination orbit within schedule. More than three and a half hours after the launch, the GLONASS M-58 satellite was released into its circular orbit about 19,000 kilometers or 11,806 miles above the Earth's surface

"The launch was carried out in the normal mode. The weather is not an obstacle and we [the Space Force of Russia's Aerospace Forces] are all-weather troops. This is yet another proof that lightning cannot damage our aerospace weapons," said Major-General Nikolai Nestechuk, chief of Plesetsk spaceport.

"Lightning is not an obstacle for you!," Rocosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin posted on Twitter as he congratulated the GLONASS-M launch team and military Space Forces. Rogozin even shared on social media a video of the Soyuz rocket as it was struck by lightning.

It is said that lightning strikes during rocket launches are rare, but not unprecedented. The Saturn V rocket was struck twice by lightning during the launch of NASA's Apollo 12 mission to the moon in November 1969.

Replenishing GLONASS Satellite

The Soyuz carrier rocket and upperstage Fregat successfully delivered a fresh satellite possibly to replace the ailing satellite GLONASS M No. 723. The Soyuz-2-1b is a modernized version of the Soyuz family of rockets. The GLONASS orbital group has total of 26 satellites, 24 of which are stationed in three planes of eight spacecraft each, to provide worldwide service. One satellite is in flight test stage while another is in orbital reserve. Majority of the satellites are operating beyond their service life.

GLONASS or Global navigation satellite system provides real-time positioning and speed data for land, sea, and airborne receivers. It is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. Global Positioning System, China's BeiDou navigation system, and Europe's Galileo. It broadcasts four navigation signals: unrestricted L1 and L2 signals in the L-band for civilian use, and restricted signals for military use. It operates under the supervision of the Russian Aerospace Force.

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