Six satellite cargos ride Dnepr booster to space

Posted: December 20, 2002

A converted Russian ballistic missile was launched into orbit Friday with a cluster of six satellites for a variety of organizations around the world.

The Dnepr booster blasted out of its missile silo and began its trip to space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at approximately 1700 GMT (12:00 p.m. EST).

Reports say the three-stage launcher injected the payloads into their intended orbit over 400 miles high with an inclination of 65 degrees.

This was the third commercial flight of the Dnepr rocket, a converted former Soviet SS-18 ballistic missile built for destruction. The SS-18 is the most powerful ICBM in the world.

The Dnepr carried six spacecraft including a dummy craft for U.S.-based TransOrbital and their Trailblazer commercial lunar satellite program.

Officials say the launch of the Trailblazer mock-up could lead to the first mission to orbit the Moon as early as late 2003 aboard another Dnepr rocket. TransOrbital signed an agreement last month with Kosmotras -- which markets the Dnepr booster -- for the use of the Dnepr to launch lunar Trailblazer spacecraft throughout the program's future.

The orbiter will image the lunar surface and the Earth's rise over the Moon, in addition to conducting a number of commercial experiments. Video may also be returned from lunar orbit.

Specific imaging targets include the polar regions and the far side of the Moon, as well as American and Russian manned and unmanned landing sites.

Plans also call for TransOrbital to send a lander to the Moon in late 2004 or 2005, and to launch one or two missions per year for the foreseeable future.

TransOrbital says their approximately 220-pound Trailblazer platform can also be used for a number of other interplanetary missions.

Also aboard was the UniSat 2 microsatellite, weighing just 26 pounds at liftoff. The Italian craft features technology experiments, a sensor to detect debris impacts in orbit, an instrument for aerosol survey, a camera, and a micropropulsion payload.

The twin LatinSat-A and LatinSat-B satellites, each massing about 25 pounds, will be used by Aprize Satellite of Argentina to test technology for monitoring the state of both fixed and mobile goods for the transport industry. Both craft have an operating lifetime of 7 to 10 years.

The German Rubin 2 microsatellite will be the first Internet-controlled spacecraft to operate 24 hours a day without having to use ground stations. Officials say only a personal computer and Internet access are needed to fully control the spacecraft and its experimental payload. The Orbcomm mobile messaging satellite network will be used for most of the communications relay.

The Dnepr also carried the SaudiSat 1C spacecraft for a Saudi Arabian customer.

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