Russian Proton Rocket Launches Powerful Yamal-601 Satellite Into Orbit

A Russian rocket lit up the night sky over Baikonur Cosmodrome Thursday (May 30) to launch a powerful new communications satellite into orbit.

The heavy-lift Proton-M rocket lifted off at 1:42 p.m. EDT (1742 GMT) carrying the Yamal-601 communications satellite for Russia's JSC Gazprom Space Systems. It was 10:42 p.m. local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan. 

Yamal-601 is Russia's most powerful communications satellite yet, according to the country's space agency Roscosmos. The satellite was built by the French aerospace company Thales Alenia Space and is equipped with 18 C-band transponders, 19 Ku-band transponders and 26 Ka-band transponders to provide "fixed communications, broadcast and internet access services" to customers, Thales officials have said

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The satellite weighs about 5 metric tons and is designed to last for 15 years. It will replace the current Yamal-202 communications satellite, also owned and operated by Gazprom, in an orbit at 49-degrees east, which allows coverage of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, south and southeast Asia, Thales officials added.

The launch of Yamal-601 marked the first launch of a Proton rocket in 2019, which has already seen a series of Soyuz launches to launch satellites and space station crews into orbit. 

The booster launched into orbit with a Breeze-M upper stage that was expected to carry Yamal-601 into its final orbit about 9 hours after liftoff, according to Roscosmos. The Breeze-M upper stage will perform five separate maneuvers to reach its deployment position, they added. 

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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.