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Proton rocket blasts off with Russian Express satellites

Posted: March 16, 2014

A Proton rocket ascended into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Saturday and delivered a pair of Russian broadcasting satellites to orbit nine hours later to begin a streak of Proton launches for the Russian government.

The Proton rocket blasts off at 2308 GMT (7:08 p.m. EDT). Photo credit: Roscosmos
The launcher took off at 2308 GMT (7:08 p.m. EDT) Saturday, or 5:08 a.m. Sunday at Baikonur, lighting up the predawn sky as its six RD-276 main engines lifted the rocket off the launch pad with more than 2 million pounds of thrust.

The 19-story rocket shed its first stage about two minutes later, and the Proton's second and third stages finished their burns as designed before the Breeze M upper stage took over for a series of four in-space maneuvers to boost the mission's dual payloads to the correct orbit thousands of miles above of Earth.

The Express AT1 and Express AT2 satellites were deployed from the Breeze M upper stage more than nine hours after liftoff, according to a report by Russia's Interfax news agency.

The spacecraft launched stacked on top of each other inside the Proton's payload fairing. Both satellites were manufactured by ISS Reshetnev, a Russian space contractor, and will be operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Co.

The satellites are based on variants of Reshetnev's Express 1000 platform.

Thales Alenia Space of France built the communications payloads for both satellites.

The spacecraft will be positioned in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles over the equator for their 15-year missions.

The Express AT1 and Express AT2 satellites are assembled inside the Proton rocket's payload fairing. Photo credit: Roscosmos
Express AT1, the larger of the two satellites, will broadcast television signals and data networking services across Eastern Europe and Russia from an operating post at 56 degrees east longitude.

Fitted with 32 Ku-band transponders, Express AT1 has a launch mass of approximately 1,800 kilograms, or about 4,000 pounds. It replaces capacity currently offered at the 56 degrees east position by the DirecTV 1R and Bonum 1 satellites, which are at the end of their design lives.

RSCC plans to keep DirecTV 1R as a backup to Express AT1, while Bonum 1 is scheduled to be retired from service.

The smaller Express AT2 spacecraft is heading for 140 degrees east longitude with 16 Ku-band transponders to cover Russia's Far East.

Eutelsat has claimed 19 Ku-band transponders on Express AT1 to expand digital television offerings in Siberia, primarily for the Tricolor TV and NTV Plus networks. Paris-based Eutelsat is also leasing capacity on Express AT2.

"I would refer to the launch of Express AT1 and Express AT2 satellites as the most eagerly awaited event of 2014," said Alexander Makarov, Tricolor TV's director general, in a statement. "At last we will be able to see our Siberian viewers enjoying the exclusive services and TV channels originally accessible to subscribers in European Russia. As early as next spring the renovated package will include, among other thing, the first Tricolor TV HD multiplex, featuring 25 HD channels. Siberia will also see the operator's own product, SuperKino HD, which is a premium package of movie channels."

The next Proton rocket launch is set for early April with RSCC's Express AM4R satellite, followed by a mission in late April with a Russian government data relay satellite and a Kazakh telecom payload.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.