Russian Proton rocket launches Express communications satellites in stunning nighttime liftoff (video, photos)

A Proton rocket launched two communications satellites for the Russian government Thursday (July 30) in a dazzling nighttime liftoff.  

The heavy-lift Proton-M rocket equipped with a Breeze-M upper stage launched the Express 80 and Express 103 communications satellites into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff occurred at 5:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT). The local time at the launch site was 2:25 a.m. on Friday (July 31). 

Russia's space agency Roscosmos hailed the launch as a success. The Express communications satellites successfully separated from the 174-foot-tall (53 meters) Proton just over 18 hours after liftoff, Roscosmos officials said

Related: Roscosmos: Russia's Space Centers and Launch Sites in Pictures

Built by Roscosmos' ISS Reshetnev, the Express communications satellites will use electric thrusters to reach their final orbits that range between 10,300 miles (16,600 kilometers) and 34,100 miles (54,900 kilometers), according to Spaceflight Now. It should take the two satellites up to 160 days to reach their target orbits, according to Roscosmos.

The Express 80 and Express 103 satellites are designed to serve users with fixed and mobile data services, digital TV and radio broadcasting and high-speed internet access, Roscosmos officials said. They should last about 15 years in orbit.

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. 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. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.