Proton rocket launches with navigation payload
UPDATED: December 10, 2003

Topped with a trio of Russian navigation satellites, a Proton rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome today.

The multi-hour launch began at 1742 GTM (12:42 p.m. EST).

The Breeze M upper stage deployed a trio of Uragan spacecraft into orbit for the Glonass satellite navigation constellation at 2325 GMT (6:25 p.m. EST), according to Itar-Tass. The craft were designated Kosmos 2402, 2403 and 2404.

Similar in concept to the American Global Positioning System, the Glonass network uses a fleet of orbiting satellites to relay precision location information to Russian military forces.

The three new satellites launched today reportedly includes one upgraded spacecraft that more than doubles the on-orbit life expectancy of previous Uragans.

This marked the second of three Proton launches scheduled from late November through the end of 2003. A Proton successfully carried two Yamal 200-series communications satellites into orbit November 24 to provide services across Russia, Europe and Southeast Asia. The Express AM-22 communications satellite is awaiting liftoff from Baikonur on December 29.