Russian Communications Satellite Put Into Orbit

ARussian Proton rocket successfully launched a next-generation domesticcommunications satellite Tuesday night that will be able to reach over abillion people across large parts of Asia.

Liftoffof the Proton-K booster was at 2231 GMT (5:31 p.m. EST), or in the wee hours ofWednesday morning at the Baikonur Cosmodromelaunch site in central Kazakhstan.The Proton's three core stages each burned and separated as planned, leavingthe Block-DM upper stage to successfully conduct a series of firings to placethe Express AM-2 satellite into its intended high orbit.

Wirereports said Express AM-2 was deployed from the Block-DM upper stage at around0505 GMT (12:05 a.m. EST) Wednesday morning.

Afterseveral weeks of system tests in space, Express AM-2 will be maneuvered intoits operational slot 22,300 miles high in geostationary orbit along the equatorat 80 degrees East longitude above the Indian Ocean.From there, the satellite will cover users across all of Russia, parts of China,northern India, Bangladesh, Bhutan,Nepal and the northernreaches of Indochina.

ExpressAM-2 will be operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Company for bothstate users and commercial customers. The Russian federal government willutilize the satellite for mobile presidential communications and officialbroadcasting, while others will use the craft's capabilities for digitalbroadcasting, telephony, videoconferencing, data networks and broadbandInternet access.

Thespacecraft's structure was built by Russian contractor NPO PM in Siberia andAlcatel Space of Franceprovided the communications payload, which consists of 16 C-band and 12 Ku-bandtransponders, along with one L-band transponder.

Thisis the first of the Express AM series with an enlarged payload capacity of fourC-band transponders.

The5,720-pound satellite has a lifetime of at least 12 years and is the fourth offive craft in the new-generation Express AM series, which began launches inDecember 2003. The final component - Express AM-3 - is set for liftoff laterthis spring. The Express AM satellite fleet contains Russia's most powerfulcivilian-operated domestic communications birds.

Tuesday'sflight marked the second for Proton in 2005, and the 313th launch of a variantof the vehicle since it began flying 40 years ago. The next Proton is expectedto launch in May with the DirecTV-8 direct-to-home broadcasting satellite underthe commercial auspices of International Launch Services.

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