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2003 April 24: A Proton-K rocket blasted off from Pad 24 at Site 81 in the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 08:23:13 Moscow Time, carrying a classified military payload. According to the Russian Space Forces, VKS, the vehicle successfully reached an initial parking orbit at 8:33 Moscow Time. The Proton's upper stage then was expected to fire twice to deliver the satellite into its final orbit. Separation between the payload and the upper stage was scheduled for 15:00 Moscow Time on April 24. Proton rockets are routinely used for the delivery of communications and early-warning satellites for the Russian military.
2003 June 7: A long-delayed mission of the Proton-M rocket got off the ground without a hitch on June 7, 2003. The four-stage vehicle, carrying the AMC-9 communications satellite for Alcatel Space and SES AMERICOM, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:15 in the morning local time (22:15 GMT on June 6). After 8 hours and 55 minutes, the AMC-9 separated from the Briz-M upper stage, entering a geostationary transfer orbit.
It was the 300th launch of the Proton rocket, according to International Launch Services, a joint venture marketing the launcher. Various issues kept delaying the mission from the original launch date of Feb. 10, 2003 to March 15 and March 31, 2003. The vehicle was finally rolled out to the launch pad on April 25, in preparation for launch on April 29, however on April 26, the mission was postponed, when technical problems were discovered in the Briz-M upper stage, which required its return to the assembly building and destacking of the vehicle. Initially, at least a 30-day delay was expected. However, ILS then announced May 20 (May 19 GMT) as the launch date. Yet, again, on May 17, during routine pre-launch verification activities at the launch pad, a launch vehicle anomaly on one of the gyro units was identified, requiring a replacement of the system, ILS said. The company then announced June 10 as the launch date, which was advanced to June 7 at the beginning of that month.
2003 Nov. 22: Russia launched a pair of communications satellites aimed at supporting the nation's burgeoning oil industry. A four-stage version of the Proton-K rocket with a Block DM upper stage blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 09:22 Moscow Time on Nov. 22, 2003, after a 16-minute delay caused by weather conditions.
The launch vehicle carried two Yamal-200 spacecraft built by RKK Energia in Korolev for the Gazkom organization, serving primarily the Russian oil and gas industry. One of the satellites was expected to bring communications in the remote but oil-rich regions of Eastern Russia, as well as other regions of the former Soviet Union. The second spacecraft will cover Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. The Yamal-200-1 satellite with a mass of 1,360 kilograms carries nine C-band transponders and six Ku-band transponders.
The Yamal-200-2 with a mass of 1,320 kilograms carries 18 C-band transponders. The spacecraft are expected to take positions in geostationary orbit at 90 and 49 degrees East longitude, respectively, where they should function for more than 12 years.
As of November 2018, the Yamal-200-1 satellite had stopped functioning, but Yamal-200-2 was expected to work until the middle of 2019 and be replaced by Yamal-601.
Various technical problems pushed the mission from its previous launch dates scheduled for June 30, August 24, October 15 and November 20, 2003. A pair of smaller Yamal-100 satellites went into orbit in September 1999, however one of the two spacecraft never entered service due to onboard failure, while the second remained operational by the time a new pair of satellites was launched.
2003 Dec. 10: Russia launched three satellites to replenish the nation's GLONASS global navigation network. A Proton rocket with a Briz-M upper stage blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 10, 2003 at 20:42:12 Moscow Time, carrying two Uragan and one Uragan-M spacecraft. After reaching orbit, the satellites were designated as Cosmos-2402, -2403 and -2404. This latest launch aimed to replenish the semi-military global positioning system, known as GLONASS, the Russian equivalent of the American GPS system. However due to lack of operational Uragan spacecraft currently in orbit, the GLONASS network is unable to provide the accuracy of navigation of the complete system.
2003 Dec. 29: A Russian Proton rocket successfully delivered a spacecraft for the nations satellite communications company, RSCC. The Proton K vehicle with a Block DM upper stage blasted off from Site 200 at Baikonur Cosmodrome at 04:00 local time on December 29, 2003 (2300 GMT on Dec. 28), carrying the Ekspress-AM22 spacecraft for the Russian Satellite Communications Company, RSCC. The third stage of the Proton rocket inserted the Block DM/Express-AM22 combination into an initial low Earth orbit, and the upper stage conducted two firings to raise the apogee and circularize the orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers over the Equator. The Express-AM22, built by NPO PM development center in Zheleznogorsk, Russia in cooperation with Alcatel Space, has a projected life span of 12 years. The spacecraft carries 24 transponders and is expected to operate in the orbital position 53 degrees East longitude over the Equator.
Comparison of Proton-K and Proton-M launch vehicles. Credit: ILS