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Proton launches Zvezda

On July 12, 2000, the Russian-built Zvezda Service Module, the third but by far most critical element of the International Space Station, ISS, began its mission with a ride to orbit aboard a Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was the last launch of the three-stage Proton, something which would not be repeated until the yet-to-be-performed liftoff of the MLM Nauka module in the 2020s.


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Zvezda launch at a glance:

Spacecraft designation(s) Zvezda Service Module, SM, 17KSM No. 12801, ISS mission 1R
Launch vehicle Proton-K No. 39801
Launch site Baikonur, Site 81, Pad 23
Launch date and time 2000 July 12, 07:56:36.002 Moscow Decree Time (04:56 UTC)
Spacecraft mass 20,257.7 kilograms (at launch vehicle separation)
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How Zvezda was launched

The three-stage Proton-K rocket carrying the Zvezda Service Module lifted off from Pad 23 at Site 81 in Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 12, 2000, at 07:56:36.002 Moscow Time.

Propelled by the six 14D14 engines of the first stage, the rocket rose vertically for 10 seconds and then began to turn east and slightly north to align its ascent trajectory with the orbital plane of the ISS. The ascending vehicle passed the point of maximum dynamic pressure of the surrounding atmosphere 65 seconds into the flight.

The first stage of the Proton separated 126.1 seconds after launch at an altitude of 43.65 kilometers, but four seconds earlier (T+121.9 seconds), the four engines of the second stage were ignited, firing through a lattice structure connecting the two boosters until their separation at a speed of 1.669 kilometers per second. Around 57 seconds later, the payload fairing, protecting the spacecraft in the dense atmosphere split into two parts and fell off, almost simultaneously with the deployment of the telemetry antenna aboard the service module. By that time, the vehicle was more than 78 kilometers above ground and had a speed of 2.093 kilometers per second. Within two minutes, telemetry from the spacecraft began flowing to the ground.

The Proton's second stage operated for three minutes and 28 seconds and separated at T+334.5 seconds at an altitude of 138.3 kilometers, while the third stage took over the powered ascent. It began operating at T+331.1 seconds with the firing of four RD-0214 steering engines through special openings in the adapter between the two boosters followed by a command to cut off the second-stage propulsion system at T+333.8 seconds. Upon separation, the second stage fired six small solid-propellant motors against the direction of the flight to facilitate braking. Then, at T+336.9 seconds, the main RD-0213 engine of the third stage joined in.

At T+350 seconds, or 16 seconds after the separation of the second stage, the propulsion system aboard the Zvezda was commanded to initiate a 50-second activation process.

Nine minutes and 37 seconds into the flight, a command to cut off the main engine of the third stage was issued; however the four nozzles of the steering engine continued firing for 10 more seconds fine-tuning the vehicle's speed for accurate orbit insertion.

Immediately after the third-stage propulsion system was shut down, 9 minutes and 47 seconds after launch, at an altitude of 185 kilometers and a velocity of 7.551 kilometers per second, the pyrotechnic locks connecting the module to the rocket were cut and four solid motors aboard the third stage were fired against the direction of the flight, pushing the empty stage away from its former cargo.

Around 600 seconds after launch, the Zvezda Service Module successfully entered a 185.27 by 352.61-kilometer parking orbit (114.9 by 220 miles) with an inclination 51.617 degrees toward the Equator.

 

Zvezda launch timeline according to NASA:

Event
Elapsed time
Altitude
Speed
Liftoff
0
0
0
Stage I separation
2 minutes 06 seconds
43.6 km
3,700 miles per hour
Payload fairing separation
3 minutes 03 seconds
78.2 km
4,700 miles per hour
Stage II separation
5 minutes 30 seconds
138.3 km
9,900 miles per hour
Stage III separation
9 minutes 47 seconds
185 km
16,900 miles per hour

 

 

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Article and photography by Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 25, 2020

Paged editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: July 13, 2020

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The Proton rocket with the Zvezda service module blasts off from Baikonur. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak


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The launch of the Proton rocket with the Zvezda Service Module on July 12, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak