Spaceflight Now Home

Spaceflight Now +

Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

"Ride of Your Life"
As the title aptly describes, this movie straps you aboard the flight deck for the thunderous liftoff, the re-entry and safe landing of a space shuttle mission. The movie features the rarely heard intercom communications between the crewmembers, including pilot Jim Halsell assisting commander Bob Cabana during the landing.

 Play video

Message from Apollo 8
On Christmas Eve in 1968, a live television broadcast from Apollo 8 offered this message of hope to the people of Earth. The famous transmission occurred as the astronauts orbited the Moon.

 Play video

ISS receives supply ship
The International Space Station receives its 20th Russian Progress cargo ship, bringing the outpost's two-man Expedition 12 crew a delivery of fresh food, clothes, equipment and special holiday gifts just in time for Christmas.

 Short | Full length

Rendezvous with ISS
This movie features highlights of the December 23 rendezvous between the Russian Progress 20P vessel and the International Space Station. The footage comes from a camera mounted on the supply ship's nose.

 Play video

Stardust return preview
NASA's Stardust spacecraft encountered Comet Wild 2 two years ago, gathering samples of cometary dust for return to Earth. In this Dec. 21 news conference, mission officials and scientists detail the probe's homecoming and planned landing in Utah scheduled for January 15, 2006.

 Dial-up | Broadband

Science of New Horizons
The first robotic space mission to visit the distant planet Pluto and frozen objects in the Kuiper Belt is explained by the project's managers and scientists in this NASA news conference from the agency's Washington headquarters on Dec. 19.

 Dial-up | Broadband

Shuttle program update
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, discusses the latest space shuttle program news, including the decision to remove the PAL foam ramp from future external fuel tanks, during this December 15 teleconference with reporters.

 QuickTime | For iPod

Remembering Gemini 6
The Gemini 6 mission launched from the Cape at 8:37 a.m. December 15, 1965 to rendezvous with the orbiting Gemini 7 spacecraft. The rendezvous occurred and Gemini 6 safely returned to Earth.

 Play video

New views of icy moons
NASA's Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn is wrapping up a phenomenally successful year of observing the mysterious icy moons, including Enceladus, Dione, Rhea, Hyperion and Iapetus.

 Play video

First ISS spacewalkers
Mission Control remembers the spacewalking efforts by astronaut Jerry Ross and Jim Newman from this week in 1998. The duo worked to connect the first two pieces of the International Space Station -- the Russian-made Zarya control module and the U.S Unity node.

 Play video

Hubble Space Telescope
Scientists marvel at the achievements made by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope in this produced movie looking at the crown jewel observatory that has served as our window on the universe.

 Play video

Become a subscriber
More video

2005 launch year ends with successful Russian flight

Posted: December 28, 2005;
Updated: Dec. 29 @ 7:05 a.m. with AMC 23 deployment news

The final space launch of 2005 powered off the pad Wednesday night when a Russian Proton M rocket departed Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying an American satellite built to relay broadband communications to specially equipped jetliners flying across the Pacific Ocean.

The Proton rocket lifts off with the AMERICOM 23 satellite. Credit: ILS TV
The mission began at 0228 GMT (9:28 p.m. EST) with the roar of the heavy-lift Proton's six main engines propelling the 200-foot rocket into the predawn skies of Kazakhstan. The launch had been delayed from December 5 because of a problem detected in the vehicle's control system, forcing the rocket to be returned to its processing facility for replacement of a faulty gyroscope. Wednesday's countdown hit the target launch time as planned.

Less than 10 minutes into the flight, the three stages that made up the Proton "core vehicle" had completed their systematic firings and dropped away, leaving the Breeze M and attached AMERICOM 23 spacecraft on a suborbital trajectory. The upper stage then performed its first firing into a low-altitude parking orbit roughly 108 miles high as the vehicle flew off the eastern-most stretches of Asia.

After orbiting for about 40 minutes over the Pacific and South America, the stage re-ignited for a 16.5-minute burn to begin raising the orbit's high point to geostationary altitude of 22,300 miles. This firing above the Atlantic and Africa resulted in an intermediate orbit of 160 x 3,100 miles.

Another coast period took the rocket around the world, setting up for the Breeze M's third burn over South America three-and-half hours after liftoff. The motor featured an additional propellant tank, which was emptied during the 11-minute firing and subsequently jettisoned following the stage's third burn. With the tank separated, the stage immediately fired again for a six-minute burn while crossing the Atlantic to climb into a 245 x 22,260 mile transfer orbit.

The Proton rocket lifts off with the AMERICOM 23 satellite. Credit: ILS
The stage and cargo then settled into a five-hour coast through space to reach a position over the Indian Ocean for the fifth and last Breeze M burn that headed for a 4,000 x 22,240 mile deployment orbit. The seven-minute maneuver was completed almost nine hours into the launch.

At about T+9 hours and 19 minutes, the 11,000-pound AMERICOM 23 spacecraft was released from the rocket to complete the seventh Proton mission of the year -- the second since Sunday -- and the venerable vehicle's 318th flight in four decades. It was the fourth commercial Proton flight performed in 2005 under the control of International Launch Services -- the firm set up to market Proton and American Atlas rockets. ILS has now flown 35 Proton missions over the past 10 years.

AMERICOM 23 will use an onboard kick engine to ascend into geostationary orbit where the spacecraft will park itself at 172 degrees East longitude along the equator. That vantage point will enable the satellite to beam signals northward to Alaska, southward to Australia and New Zealand and anywhere across the Pacific between California and Bangladesh.

Princeton, New Jersey-based SES AMERICOM will operate the Spacebus 4000 satellite during its 16-year design life. The craft was built in Toulouse and Cannes, France by Alcatel Alenia Space -- the new European firm created by the joining of Alcatel Space and Alenia Spazio.

The Ku-band communications payload of 20 high-powered transponders will serve long-haul airline routes over the Pacific to provide broadband connectivity for the Connexion by Boeing system. Passengers can use their laptops to check email and access the Internet with high-speed links.

The 18-transponder C-band package on the satellite will focus on the ground for more conventional telecommunications services of television and cable broadcasters, Internet providers, government and educational customers, and networking links between North America and the Pacific Rim.

An artist's concept shows the AMERICOM 23 satellite deployed in orbit. Credit: Alcatel Alenia Space
"We compliment the Alcatel Alenia Space team for delivering this very sophisticated satellite, which we designed to address a spectrum of customer applications for the next decade and beyond," Ed Horowitz, president and CEO of SES AMERICOM, said recently. "We have customers on both sides of the Pacific waiting to use both payloads in early 2006."

The rocket launching AMERICOM 23 is the modernized Proton vehicle built by Khrunichev. Russian officials say the Proton M is friendlier to the environment since its optimized engines leave less unused fuel in the booster. Any residual propellant is then vented in the atmosphere before the vehicle stages impact in Kazakhstan, reducing contamination in the landing area.

The rocket also sports upgraded digital control avionics that improves the accuracy of the launch.

The Breeze M stage, also made by Khrunichev, was designed to be relatively compact in size to free up more space in the rocket's nose cone for the payload. It was derived from the Breeze stage flown on the smaller Rockot vehicle.

The Proton M/Breeze M can haul heavier payloads into orbit than the older Proton K and Block DM upper stage combination.

Wednesday's launch signaled the final rocket liftoff in 2005 -- a year that saw 52 flights reach orbit, plus three failures, from spaceports around the world.