August 19, 2008

Russian Proton Rocket Trying To Prove Its Dependability

On Monday, the Russian Proton rocket tried to prove its dependability by delivering one of the largest commercial satellites ever created into orbit.

The launcher, which has had three failures over the last three years, marooned a US spacecraft at a useless altitude in March.

International Launch Services says an upper-stage problem has been located and fixed.

The UK-based Inmarsat company says it is confident that the Proton rocket will deliver the six-ton Inmarsat-4 (I4) satellite into orbit when its flight begins from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"We have been fully involved in the review board that they had into the last failure," said an Inmarsat spokesman.

"We have obviously ensured that the testing that went on was as comprehensive as possible; and I think it is fair to say we are very satisfied, and that things are in a good position to go for the return to flight."

The satellite will be the third I4 to go into orbit and will help Inmarsat deliver high-speed mobile Internet and phone services to consumers across the world.

The I4 is a massive spacecraft with a main body 7 meters high, and a solar panel that spans 45 meters.

Two previous I4 satellites were taken into orbit by Atlas and Sea Launch vehicles.

The 700-ton Proton rocket, which stands 58 meters high, has been launching satellites since 1996, but has a government heritage that dates back to the 1960's.  Despite its recent problems, the Proton has been one of the most successful heavy boosters in history.

The rocket has delivered science missions to plants, and launched key machinery to the Soviet Mir space station, and the International Space Station.

The Inmarsat mission will take nine hours and three minutes to complete, leaving the I4 at 98 degrees West over the Americas, and 36,000 km above the earth.

"We are a global operator; we always have been since our inception," the Inmarsat spokesman said.

"This launch will give us a next-generation satellite network that will be in place until the 2020s, so for our user base it is reassurance that we have a network up there that will go well into the future."

Launch Image Courtesy Inmarsat


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