Dnepr Rocket Successfully Orbits Japanese Satellites

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

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

The Dneprcan be used to put spacecraft with a payload of up to 3.5 tonnes in highelliptical orbits or on moon-bound trajectories.

It wasfirst 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 moreflight for a foreign customer in 2005.

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

TheJapanese side took over control of the two satellites after their separationfrom the rocket.

The OICETS "isa satellite used to verify key technological elements of 'opticalinter-satellite communication' that plays an important role in large volumeinter-satellite communication meant for future space activities". It willcarry out "verification experiments of acquisition, tracking, and pointingtechnologies with ARTEMIS, the advanced data relay engineering satellite of theEuropean Space Agency," the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)says on its website.

The 70-kilogramINDEX has the tasks of studying polar lights and demonstrating new satellitetechnologies.

Neithersatellite has any military tasks. Both are planned to be in use for a year.

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