MOSCOW (Interfax) - A Dnepr civilian rocket converted from the Russian RS-20 Voyevoda intercontinental ballistic missile (known as SS-18 or Satan in the West) orbited two Japanese OICETS and INDEX satellites, at 5:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT) on Tuesday, the Space Forces press service told Interfax.

The Dnepr was launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan 15 minutes before.

The Dnepr can be used to put spacecraft with a payload of up to 3.5 tonnes in high elliptical orbits or on moon-bound trajectories.

It was first tested on April 21, 1999, when it orbited a British UoSAT satellite.

The Dnepr, which is manufactured by the Pivdenmash plant in Ukraine, is to make one more flight for a foreign customer in 2005.

The RS-20 has been part of Russia's strategic arsenal for more than 20 years.

The Japanese side took over control of the two satellites after their separation from the rocket.

The OICETS "is a satellite used to verify key technological elements of 'optical inter-satellite communication' that plays an important role in large volume inter-satellite communication meant for future space activities". It will carry out "verification experiments of acquisition, tracking, and pointing technologies with ARTEMIS, the advanced data relay engineering satellite of the European Space Agency," the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) says on its website.

The 70-kilogram INDEX has the tasks of studying polar lights and demonstrating new satellite technologies.

Neither satellite has any military tasks. Both are planned to be in use for a year.