Russia has successfully carried out a Christmas Day launch of their Proton-M launch vehicle with a Block DM-2 upper stage, carrying three Glonass-M GPS satellites. Launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome occurred at 7:32pm UTC.
The launch marks the 20th mission from Baikonur during 2007, 19 of which were successful. The September 6 Proton-M launch, carrying the JCSAT 11 telecommunications satellite, was the only failure.
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All three satellites are of the Glonass-M type, which means that they have extended lifetime compared to their Glonass predecessors. The satellites will be deployed in the second orbital plane of the Glonass constellation, which had no satellites in it prior to this launch.
The first launch under the project took place on October 12, 1982, but the system only officially started to be used on September 24, 1993. Glonass comprises radio navigation satellites that track the whereabouts of clients on land, at sea and in space.
The satellites currently in use are of two modifications: Glonass and the updated Glonass-M. The latter satellites have a longer service life of seven years and are equipped with updated antenna feeder systems and an additional navigation frequency for civilian users.
‘The current orbital satellite cluster of the GLONASS system comprises 18 spacecraft, including 13 that are user for the assigned purpose, three – temporarily withdrawn from service for maintenance, and two are about to be phased out of the GLONASS system,’ according to Russia’s Central Research Institute for Engineering.
A future modification, Glonass-K, is an entirely new model based on a non-pressurized platform, standardized to the specifications of the previous models’ platform, Express-1000.
A fully operational Glonass constellation will consist of 24 satellites, with 21 used for transmitting signals and three for on-orbit spares, deployed in three orbital planes.
Another six satellites will be added to the Glonass system in 2008, and the first two improved Glonass-K satellites will be launched in 2009.