Russia Launches Relay Craft, Commemorative Satellite
Russia launched four satellites aboard a Rockot booster from the country's northern spaceport Friday, according to news reports.
The 95-foot-tall rocket, capped with a Breeze KM upper stage, lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 1520 GMT (11:20 a.m. EDT). The converted ballistic missile deployed the four payloads into a 900-mile-high orbit less than two hours later, according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
Friday's launch was the first flight of a Breeze upper stage since March, when a similar stage used on the Proton rocket failed and stranded a U.S. communications satellite in a useless orbit. The owners of the AMC 14 satellite declared the craft a total loss to redeem a $150 million insurance payout.
Russian investigators determined the cause of the failure was a ruptured gas duct inside the Breeze M's engine. Engineers said the duct could have burst due to structural erosion, high temperatures and pressure fluctuations, according to International Launch Services, the U.S.-based firm responsible for selling Proton rockets to commercial satellite operators.
ILS officials say they will not resume commercial Proton flights until further analysis is completed this summer.
The Rockot was carrying three Gonets communications satellites and a small spacecraft to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite.
The Gonets satellites will be used to relay data and text messages for the Russian military, government agencies and private organizations.
Operated by Gonets SatCom for the Russian government, the spacecraft are designed to last up to seven years. The satellite fleet can provide communications coverage across Russian territory.
The mission's other payload, called Yubileiny, will broadcast audio messages, imagery, and tones similar to the radio signals transmitted by Sputnik, according to a posting on the Web site of NPO PM, a partner in the craft's development.
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