Tsyklon booster launches with cargo of six satellites
Posted: December 28, 2001

A Tsyklon 3 rocket blasted off from Russia today carrying six communications satellites on what is believed to be the final space launch of 2001, ending a year that marked the lowest number of launches in nearly 40 years.

The booster was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 0324 GMT (11:24 p.m. EST Thursday) carrying three Kosmos military spacecraft and three civilian Gonets satellites. The Russian ITAR-TASS news agency called the launch "successful."

The Kosmos trio -- designated Kosmos 2384, 2385 and 2386 -- will be used to provide military communications for the Russian Ministry of Defence. The Gonets are designed to relay messaging communications to remote regions. All six satellites are based upon the same "Strela" spacecraft design.

This launch is virtually identical to one performed a year ago by a Tsyklon 3 carrying six satellites of the same variety. However, the rocket malfunctioned and the spacecraft failed to reach orbit during that December 27, 2000 mission.

For planet Earth, today's launch should be the last one of the year. No further rockets are publicly scheduled for liftoff over the next few days.

The year 2001 has turned out to be the slowest for space launches in nearly 40 years with only 58 flights to reach orbit, along with one complete failure -- the Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket that was supposed to loft two satellites.

Historians say you must look back to 1963 to find a year that produce that few of launches to reach orbit when 55 missions placed payloads into space. There were actually 70 launches that year, but 15 never made it to orbit.

In 2000 there were 82 launches to orbit plus three failures.

By contrast the most productive year was 1984 when 129 launches delivered payloads into orbit.

The first launch of 2002 is expected to be a U.S. Air Force Titan 4B rocket carrying a Milstar military communications satellite on January 15 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.