Thursday, August 17, 2017

Proton-M Launches Military Satellite into Orbit

Proton-M lifts off from Baikonur with the Blagovest 11L satellite. Credit: Roscosmos

A military communications satellite, known as Blagovest 11L, has been successfully launched into space by a Proton-M heavy-lift rocket. The launch vehicle thundered off from Site 81/24 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at exactly 4:07 a.m. local time on Thursday, Aug. 17 (6:07 p.m. EDT, Aug. 16).

"A Proton-M heavy-lift launch vehicle with a defense ministry’s satellite has been successfully launched from the Baikonur space center," reports Russian news agency TASS.

Due to the military nature of the mission, not much info about the pre-launch preparations was disclosed by Russian media outlets. ISS Reshetnev, the manufacturer of the Blagovest satellite, released only a brief statement informing about the delivery of the spacecraft to Baikonur in early July. The launch itself was conducted without any prior notice.

Nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage detached from the launch vehicle in order to begin a several-hour flight towards intended orbit. The satellite was deployed into a geostationary orbit, 22,370 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

"All pre-launch operations were conducted in a routine mode. The launch and the flight of the rocket were monitored by the ground-based automated control system," said the press service of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Blagovest 11L is a high-capacity telecommunications satellite designed for high-speed data transmission. It is based on ISS Reshetnev’s Express 2000 satellite platform, which is capable of hosting payloads up to one metric ton. The bus offers three-axis stabilization, precise stationkeeping capabilities and can combine chemical and electric propulsion systems.

According ISS Reshetnev, Blagovest 11L hosts a high-throughput payload provided by Thales Alenia Space, operating in the Ka-Band frequency (26.5-40 GHz) and the Q-Band Extremely High Frequency Range of 33 to 50 GHz. This makes it one of the first satellites to operationally use Q-Band communications supporting higher bandwidths.

ISS Reshetnev revealed that Blagovest 11L is intended to deliver high speed internet access, communications services, television and radio broadcasting, as well as telephony and videoconferencing. The satellite is expected to provide its services for 15 years.

In the coming years, three more Blagovest spacecraft (designated 12L, 13L and 14L) are planned to be sent into space by the Russian Ministry of Defence. However, no exact dates launch dates are currently available.

The 190-foot tall (58-meter) Proton-M booster, which was used to send Blagovest 11L into space, measures some 13.5 feet (4.1 meters) in diameter along its second and third stages, with a first stage that has a diameter of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters). The total overall height of the Proton rocket’s three stages is about 138.8 feet (42.3 meters).

On Thursday, the Proton-M rocket flew in configuration with the Briz-M upper stage, which is powered by a pump-fed gimbaled main engine. This stage is composed of a central core and an auxiliary propellant tank that is jettisoned in flight after the depletion of the stage’s fuel. The Briz-M control system includes an onboard computer, a three-axis gyro stabilized platform, and a navigation system.

The flight was the second Proton mission and the 11th orbital flight for Russia in 2017. It was also the sixth launch from Baikonur this year. The next Proton-M mission is currently scheduled for Sept. 9 when it will orbit the Amazonas 5 communications satellite for Hispasat.

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