Russian Proton rocket launches two communications satellites to space

A Russian Proton rocket overcame a one-week delay to launch two communications satellites into space Monday (Dec. 13).

The Express-AMU3 and Express-AMU7 spacecraft flew to space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:07 a.m. EST (1207 GMT or 5:07 p.m. local time). Russian space agency Roscosmos reported launch success and said the upper stage rocket, Briz-M, would place the satellites into their target orbit across five more burns.

"All stages of the flight (separation of the stages and payload fairing jettison) went nominally," Roscosmos reported (opens in new tab) in a statement. A video of the launch (opens in new tab) showed clouds brushing by the rocket as it made a nighttime climb into the sky.

The Proton-M rocket was initially supposed to launch Dec. 6, but the launch was delayed several days due to the need to address a "deficiency" in the Briz-M booster, state media TASS reported (opens in new tab) earlier in December. 

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A Russian Proton rocket carrying the Express-AMU3 and Express-AMU7 communications satellites lifts off from a pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Dec. 13, 2021. (Image credit: Pavel Shvets/Yuzhny Space Center/Roscosmos)

Assisted by Briz-M, the two satellites will transition to an altitude between 11,600 miles and 32,800 miles (between 18,700 km and 52,800 km) to eventually move into geosynchronous orbit, at 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers). Geosynchronous orbit will allow a relatively fixed position over Russia as the Earth rotates.

The satellite pair is meant to serve the Russian Federation's communications and broadcasting needs, including "fixed and mobile communications, television and radio broadcasting services, broadband high-speed access to information resources and other applications," Roscosmos stated (opens in new tab) of the launch.

The last Express launch, which also sent two satellites aloft successfully, took place in July 2020. The first of the satellite series was launched in October 1994 to replace an older set of satellites known as Gorizont, then in use since 1979, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace