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Russian early warning satellite orbited by Proton

Posted: March 30, 2012

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Russia launched a missile detection satellite Friday from the Kazakhstan steppe, marking the last flight of a venerable version of the Proton rocket after 45 years of service.

Launch of the Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome was at 0549 GMT. Credit: Roscosmos
The Proton K launcher blasted off at 0549 GMT (1:49 a.m. EDT) Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where it was 11:49 a.m. local time.

Powered by six RD-253 main engines, the rocket swiftly rose from the launch pad belching fiery blue and orange exhaust.

The Proton and a Block DM upper stage deployed the Russian military payload in the targeted orbit at 1227 GMT (8:27 a.m. EDT), according to the Novosti news agency.

The spacecraft was named Kosmos 2479 under the Russian defense ministry's nomenclature for military satellites. Observers believe the payload was an Oko-class early warning satellite designed to detect missile launches with an infrared telescope.

The Oko spacecraft, believed to be the last in the current early warning system, will be stationed in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles over the equator, giving the platform a view of nearly half of Earth.

It was the 310th launch of a Proton K rocket since 1967, according to Khrunichev, the Proton's contractor. A modernized version of the expendable booster called the Proton M rocket has taken over launching commercial satellites and Russian government payloads.

The Proton M rocket features upgraded first stage engines and a digital flight control system, increasing its lift capacity over the older Proton K derivative.

The Proton family has amassed 375 flights since 1965.

Versions of the Proton K rocket launched the Soviet Union's Salyut space stations, the major modules of Russia's Mir space complex, and the Zarya and Zvezda modules in the early phase of construction of the International Space Station.

The Proton K launched the first spacecraft to successfully make controlled landings on Venus and Mars, missions that returned samples from the moon's surface, and two probes to fly near Halley's Comet.

The first commercial flight of a Proton launcher under the auspices of International Launch Services in 1996 used the Proton K version of the rocket family to loft a European communications satellite.

Friday's launch was the third Proton rocket mission in 2012, and the fourth for the Russian space program this year. It was the 12th space launch of the year worldwide.