Israeli Satellite Reaches Orbit in Land Launch Debut
A Land Launch Zenit-3SLB rocket lifts off from the pad carrying an Israeli satellite into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on April 28, 2008.
Credit: TsENK.

PARIS -- Israel's Amos-3 telecommunications satellite was placed successfully into geostationary orbit on Monday aboard the inaugural flight of the Russian-Ukrainian Land Launch system, setting the stage for what satellite-fleet operators hope will be a lively competition between Land Launch -- affiliated with Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif. -- and Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Europe's equatorial spaceport.

Amos-3's owner, Spacecom of Tel Aviv, confirmed that the 1,270-kilogram Amos-3 separated from Land Launch's Block DM upper stage about seven and one-half hours after launch following three Block DM ignition-and-coast sequences. Spacecom said the satellite had sent initial signals and that its solar arrays had deployed.

Land Launch uses essentially the same rocket, the Zenit 3SL, as that operated by Sea Launch Co. from a floating platform on the equator in the Pacific Ocean. The rocket launched at 1:00 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT).

But Land Launch, operated from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at about 46 degrees North latitude, is capable of placing telecommunications satellites weighing about 3,600 kilograms into geostationary orbit. The Sea Launch operation, because of its equatorial location, can carry satellites weighing more than 6,000 kilograms to the same destination.

For this inaugural launch, it was Space International Services (SIS) Ltd. of Moscow that negotiated the commercial-launch contract with Spacecom. Sea Launch, which normally markets Land Launch, was not involved. SIS is owned by the Zenit 3's Russian and Ukrainian builders.

For future commercial launches, Sea Launch will contract with SIS after booking orders with satellite owners, a relationship similar to that between International Launch Services of McLean, Va., and the builders of Russia's Proton rocket.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. is a 40 percent equity owner of Sea Launch but does not have an ownership stake in Land Launch.

Land Launch is going after the same commercial market as that to be served by a Europeanized version of Russia's Soyuz rocket. Starting in 2009, this Soyuz will be launched from Europe's Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, whose location near the equator gives the vehicle the ability to loft satellites weighing slightly more than 3,000 kilograms into geostationary orbit.

While the largest commercial telecommunications satellites now routinely exceed 5,000 kilograms in launch weight, demand for satellites weighing 3,000 kilograms or less remains robust.