Russians launch three more navigation satellites
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: December 26, 2007
A Proton rocket packed with three new satellites to restore Russia's space-based navigation system to full domestic service bolted into the night sky and flew into orbit Tuesday.
The rocket blasted off from the snow-covered Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1932 GMT (2:32 p.m. EST). The Proton's three lower stages completed their burns in the mission's first nine minutes, and the Block DM upper stage later fired twice to push the payloads to their orbital destination.
The Block DM deployed the three 3,000-pound Glonass satellites about three-and-a-half hours after launch to complete the Proton rocket's seventh flight of the year, according to the Russian Space Agency.
The launcher's first two missions ended in success, but a separation failure between the first and second stages during a September flight grounded the rocket for more than seven weeks. After a brief investigation, the Proton returned to flight and closed out the year with four consecutive successful launches in less than two months.
Tuesday's mission was the 65th space launch to successfully reach orbit this year from sites around the world.
Three space launch attempts failed to reach orbit in 2007. Sea Launch's Zenit 3SL rocket suffered a dramatic launch pad explosion in January, the SpaceX Falcon 1 booster reached space but fell short of orbit in March, and the Proton's botched September mission ended with a fiery crash back to Earth.
Two Proton missions this year orbited navigation satellites for Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System. The Glonass constellation is Russia's counterpart to the U.S. Global Positioning System, providing military and civilian users with precise location and elevation data.
Once the three craft launched Tuesday join the Glonass fleet, the system will include 18 operational satellites, according to the official Novosti news agency.
Spread throughout three orbital planes, the 18 satellites will ensure near-constant coverage of Russia. The full constellation of 24 satellites, scheduled for completion in the next two years, will allow the system to reach users worldwide.
The spacecraft circle Earth in orbits 12,000 miles high with an inclination of 64.8 degrees.
A status report posted on a Russian Space Agency Web site this week lists 13 healthy satellites in the system and two craft that are soon being decommissioned. Three more satellites are currently removed from the operational fleet for unspecified reasons, according to the status report.
The status report was not updated to include the satellites launched Tuesday.
Originally deployed by the Soviet Union, the Glonass system fell into disrepair during a severe Russian economic crisis in the 1990s. The government pledged a renewed emphasis on the program in the past few years by vowing to return the fleet to full global coverage by 2009.
Maintained by the Russian military, Glonass satellites transmit two navigation signals for armed forces and civilian users. The civilian channel can provide positioning data within about 200 feet, according to the Russian Space Agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the civilian channel to worldwide users free of charge in May, bringing the system in direct competition with the GPS navigation service.
Europe plans to deploy the world's first civilian-operated satellite navigation system by 2013.