A Proton rocket sent an Asian communications satellite on the way to orbit Tuesday, successfully completing the first leg of a 9-hour mission to deliver the four-ton craft to its new home in space.
With six engines blazing a fiery trail through the night sky, the 185-foot-tall rocket lifted off at 1947 GMT (3:47 p.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
AsiaSat 5, a new 8,289-pound broadcasting and networking satellite for Asia, was bolted atop the Russian booster for the launch. The spacecraft will be operated by Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd.
The Proton broke the sound barrier and soared into the upper atmosphere within two minutes, before igniting its second stage main engine and shedding its spent lower stage.
The launcher's third stage took over five-and-a-half minutes after liftoff for a four-minute burn, during which the Proton jettisoned the clamshell-like nose cone protecting the AsiaSat 5 satellite.
After emptying its fuel tanks, the third stage released the rocket's Breeze M upper stage in a ballistic trajectory just short of orbital velocity.
The Breeze M, fueled by toxic hydrazine propellant, ignited for the first of four burns about 11 minutes into the flight and shut down at about the 18-minute mark.
The first Breeze M firing put AsiaSat 5 into a low-altitude parking orbit, according to International Launch Services, the U.S.-based firm that oversees commercial Proton missions.
The upper stage will ignite three more times to raise AsiaSat 5's orbit and reduce its inclination.
Spacecraft separation is scheduled for about 0502 GMT (1:02 a.m. EDT) Wednesday. AsiaSat 5 should be deployed in an orbit with a high point of 22,236 miles, a low point of 11,154 miles and an inclination of 6 degrees, according to ILS.
AsiaSat 5's own engines will be used to nudge the satellite higher over the next few weeks, eventually settling in a circular geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the equator.
Built by Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., AsiaSat 5's operational station will be at 100.5 degrees east longitude. The satellite's orbital speed will match the rate of Earth's rotation, allowing the craft to hover directly above the island of Sumatra.
The spacecraft carries 26 C-band transponders able to reach more than 53 countries spanning from Russia to New Zealand and from Japan to parts of Africa, according to AsiaSat.
AsiaSat 5's 14 Ku-band transponders will be attached to beams covering East Asia and South Asia. A third Ku-band beam can be switched to satisfy market demands.
Designed for a 15-year lifetime, the satellite will replace the aging AsiaSat 2 platform launched in 1995.
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