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Three military satellites ride Rockot launcher to orbit

Posted: December 26, 2013

Russia deployed a trio of military satellites in orbit more than 900 miles above Earth on Wednesday after a successful flight aboard a Rockot launch vehicle.

The decommissioned ballistic missile fired out of a launch container at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 0031 GMT Wednesday (7:31 p.m. EST Tuesday) and soared north from the military-run launch complex about 500 miles north of Moscow, according to Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, the rocket's prime contractor.

The hydrazine-fueled Rockot launch vehicle boosted the three payloads into space a few minutes after liftoff, leaving the rocket's Breeze KM upper stage to maneuver into the correct orbit for separation of the satellites.

Tracking data from the U.S. military showed the satellites were released in orbit more than 900 miles above Earth with an inclination of 82.5 degrees.

Russia did not identify the payloads on the launch, but the rocket's target orbit indicated the mission carried a trio of Rodnik satellites designed to relay messages between military users posted in remote areas.

Russia's RIA Novosti news agency said the satellites were given the names Kosmos 2488, Kosmos 2489 and Kosmos 2490 under the Russian Defense Ministry's nomenclature for military spacecraft.

The Rockot launcher is based on the SS-19 missile developed by the Soviet Union to launch nuclear weapons. Russia converted retired SS-19 missiles to satellite launchers by adding a Breeze KM third stage to deliver payloads to orbit.

Russia conducted four Rockot flights in 2013, launching military payloads in January and September before a Nov. 22 mission with the European Space Agency's three Swarm magnetic field research satellites. Wednesday's launch closed out the Rockot launch manifest for the year.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.