Elevenyears to the day since the Russian Proton rocket began flying under themarketing banner of International Launch Services, the heavy-duty boosterovernight successfully heaved a 10,200-pound Canadian telecommunicationssatellite into Earth orbit.
It was the 40th time anILS-managed Proton had blasted off from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan with a commercial satellite payload aboard. Originally formed topromote both the Proton and American Atlas rocket families, the U.S.-based firmrecently reorganized to focus entirely on its Russian product offerings.
The first launch in 1996hauled an ASTRA direct-to-home TV broadcasting satellite to serve Europe.Monday night's mission lofted the Anik F3 spacecraft, a powerful bird to beoperated in geostationary orbit by Telesat Canada of Ottawa.
The extraordinarily longascent began at 2254 GMT (6:54 p.m. EDT) as the six first stage main enginespowered the 19-story rocket away from the pad 39. Tracking cameras at thecosmodrome followed the rocket's fiery golden tail flashing through the partlycloudy predawn skies of central Asia.
Within 10 minutes, theProton had fired its three lower stages and released the Breeze M motor withthe attached cargo to begin a sequence of maneuvers over the following ninehours. The five burns by the upper stage engine pushed the rocket step-by-stepinto the intended elliptical orbit stretching 22,200 miles at its highestpoint, 3,400 miles at its lowest and inclined 11 degrees to the equator.
The box-shaped satellite,with its power-generating solar arrays and antenna appendages still stowed,successfully separated from the Breeze M motor at about 0805 GMT (4:05 a.m.EDT).
Controllers will overseeseveral carefully-planned uses of the satellite's onboard engine to circularizethe orbit where it will match Earth's rotation and appear fixed above one spotof the globe.
Anik F3's destination is aspace slot at 118.7 degrees West longitude over the equator, taking Telesat'smost-western orbital location, said Dan Goldberg, the company's president andCEO. That vantage point will enable the satellite to fulfill its 15-yearmission to provide television, Internet and business communications acrossNorth America.
Thecraft should be ready to enter service next month, added Paul Bush, Telesat'svice president of broadcasting and corporate development.
European-based satellitebuilder EADS Astrium manufactured Anik F3 based upon the company's EurostarE3000 design. The tri-band craft is equipped with 58 transponders -- 32 inKu-band, 24 in C-band and two in Ka-band.
The U.S. EchoStardirect-to-home TV company will be the prime user of the Ku-band capacity. TheC-band is available for high-definition TV and other broadcasting and the smallKa-band system will augment two-way Internet services already available via theAnik F2 sister satellite.
"Anik F3 will makesubstantial financial and operational contributions to Telesat going forwardand underscores our dedication to growing our business and providing robust andreliable satellite services to citizens throughout Canada and the rest of NorthAmerica," Goldberg said.
Anik F3 becomes Telesat's17th satellite and Astrium's 33rd Eurostar in orbit. The launch marked thefourth time Telesat has used ILS Proton vehicles to deploy a satellite and thesixth Astrium E3000 to ride the Russian rocket.
"We believe thatperformance builds customer confidence and paves the way to long-termrelationships," said Frank McKenna, the president of ILS.
The next commercial Protonlaunch is anticipated in June carrying a broadcasting satellite for DirecTV.
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