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Proton Rocket Successfully Launches U.S. Satellite

Proton Rocket Successfully Launches U.S. Satellite
A Proton M rocket topped with a Breeze M upper stage carried the AMC-15 communications satellite into space on the first leg of its 6 hour and 55 minute journey to Earth orbit. (Image credit: ILS.)

Satellite television fans have new asset in the sky tonight after the successful launch of an American communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Sitting atop a Russian-built Proton rocket, the AMC-15 satellite launched into space on a mission to provide video and broadband services to television-goers across the entire United States.

"We're thrilled to be part of this event," said Bryan McGuirk, senior vice president of SES AMERICOM, from Baikonur before launch. "All is set to go."

Built by Lockheed Martin for the Princeton, New Jersey-based satellite provide SES AMERICOM, AMC-15 left Earth at 5:23 p.m. EDT (2123 GMT), though it was a still-dark morning at the flight's Baikonur staging ground at Launch Pad 39.

The flight was marketed by McLean, Virginia's International Launch Services, and went off without a hitch despite periodic sandstorms earlier in the day, which proved a problem for ground operations, launch officials said.

"AMC-15 is an important satellite for SES AMERICOM, expanding the resources available for direct-to-home video and broadcast applications," said ILS chief Mark Albrecht before the launch.

After separating from its Proton booster 9 minutes 48 seconds after launch, AMC-15 ignited its Breeze M upper stage for the first of three engine burns to place the satellite into a transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation is expected to take place early Friday at 12:18 a.m. EDT (0418 GMT), with AMC-15 using its own engine to slide into a geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth at 105 degrees longitude.

With 12 Ka-band spot beams and 24 Ku-band transponders, AMC-15 is the first satellite dedicated to SES AMERICOM's AMERICOM2Home program. After conducting a series of tests, the satellite provider will ready the spacecraft for use by EchoStar's DISH Network to provide home entertainment services.

"AMC-15 is pivotal to our strategic and expanding relationship with EchoStar," said Dean Olmstead, SES AMERICOM president and CEO, in a statement about the mission. "AMERICOM is ready to operate its first Ka-band payload, and we believe EchoStar will fully utilize the satellite's spectrum to expand their offerings to their subscribers."

AMC-15's launch is 2004's ninth ILS mission - the fourth using the Proton launch vehicle - and the third of five flights the company is marketing for SES AMERICOM. The spacecraft's twin, AMC-16, is set for launch later this year.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the Space.com team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.