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Russian spaceflight milestone:

300th Launch of the Proton Rocket

ILS photo of the rollout and erection of the Proton rocket before its 300th flight
Proton rolls onto the launch pad for the 300th flight
[click to enlarge ILS photo]
Russia passed a milestone on June 6, 2003, when it launched one of its Proton heavy-lifting space rockets on a 300th flight.

Proton is the largest Russian launch vehicle in regular use. Ironically, the 300th flight was a commercial launch of a communications satellite to serve the United States.

It was a powerful model K of the Proton booster, topped off with a Breeze M upper stage, that blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a nine-hour trip to orbit.

After it separated from the three basic stages of the Proton rocket, the Breeze M final stage fired five times. The payload carried to space was a 9,039-lb. satellite known as AMC-9. Its GTO orbit ranged from a high of 22,205 miles to a low of 4,139 miles.

Lifting capabilities. Protons with three rocket stages can be used to launch satellites weighing up to 23 metric tons to low Earth orbits around 125 miles altitude.

The more powerful four-stage Protons are used to lift 4.5 metric tons of payload to high altitudes. Such payloads include geosynchronous communications satellites and semi-synchronous GLONASS navigations satellites. The four-stage version of the rocket also is used to fire probes on deep-space missions to the Moon and planets.

Protons were used to ferry the Salyut and Mir space stations to orbit, as well as elements of the current International Space Station (ISS).

ILS photo of the launch of the Proton rocket before its 300th flight
Proton launches on the 300th flight
[click to enlarge ILS photo]
Reliable rocket. The big boosters have been in use since 1965 when Protons began carrying space stations and heavy military payloads to orbit. The original design was a ballistic missile converted to a space launch vehicle. The space rocket design was drawn by the Soviet Union's Salyut Design Bureau and developed by the Chelomei Design Bureau. It is manufactured by the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Space Center at Moscow.

Proton is one of the most reliable heavy-lift launch vehicles in operation anywhere. It has been successful in 98 percent of its flights. As many as 13 Protons have been flown in one year. All are launched from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

On the launch pad, a Proton rocket is about 200 feet tall and weighs around 1.5 million lbs. It is nearly 23 ft. in diameter. At launch, it develops almost 2 million lbs. of thrust.

ILS. The 300th Proton flight mission was carried out by International Launch Services, a joint venture company formed back in 1995 to market Proton rockets and U.S. Atlas rockets. The 300th launch was the first Proton flight in 2003 and the 27th Proton flight for ILS.

The 300 flights include 38 years of Russian federal missions and seven years of commercial flights under the auspices of ILS.

AMC. The 9,039-lb. AMC-9 spacecraft was built by Alcatel Space of Cannes, France – the eighth Alcatel Space satellite launched by ILS.

After the Breeze M last stage dropped AMC-9 off in an elliptical orbit, the satellite boosted itself on into a circular geostationary orbit 22,369 miles above the equator where it matched Earth's rotation, making it appear to be parked above the equator at 85 degrees West longitude. That is a stationary orbit.

The company SES Americom of Princeton, New Jersey, operates AMC-9, the 16th satellite in the Americom fleet. AMC-9 has 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders carrying digital television broadcasts, data transmissions and other telecommunications services for government and commercial networks.

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