2002 March 30: A Proton rocket delivered the Intelsat-903 communications satellite, after a successful launch from Baikonur. The Proton-K equipped with a Block DM upper stage lifted off from Pad 23 at Site 81 in Baikonur on March 30, 2002, at 22:25 local time. This was the first mission of the Proton booster in four months and also its first commercial launch since June 2001. The events of September 11, and the following war in Afghanistan, were believed to be contributing factors in the delays of several commercial missions from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Baikonur, the home of the only existing launch facilities for the Proton rocket, is located in Western Kazakhstan -- in relative proximity to the area of conflict. The launch of the Intelsat-903 satellite was previously expected on November 26, 2001 and on March 4, 2002.
2002 May 7: A Proton rocket delivered the DirecTV-5 satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit after a successful launch from Baikonur. The Proton-K rocket, equipped with a Block DM upper stage lifted off from Pad 24 at Site 81 in Baikonur on May 7 at 23:00 local time. The satellite is a 1300 model built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif. and it was to be positioned at 119 degrees West longitude to provide entertainment programming and broadband services to the United States. The launch had been originally expected in October 2001 and later it was scheduled for November 2, 2001 and April 30, 2002. On May 6, the mission was postponed minutes before its liftoff scheduled for 11 p.m. local time, due to an anomaly in the launch vehicle.
2002 June 10: A Proton rocket successfully launched a Russian communications satellite. The four-stage booster lifted off at 05:14 Moscow Time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying the Ekspress-A1R (Ekspress-A No. 4) satellite, which belongs to Russia's State Company for Space Communications, GPKS. The Express-A1R is equipped with 12 C-band, 5 Ku-band and one L-band transponders and it was expected to have a lifespan of seven years. The satellite, positioned in the equatorial orbit over the point 40 degrees East longitude, will provide TV, radio and Internet services across the former Soviet Union. The spacecraft became the fourth and the last in the Express-A series developed by NPO PM enterprise based in Zheleznogorsk, Russia. The French company Alcatel Space Industries supplied the communications payload for the spacecraft.
2002 July 25: A Proton booster launched a classified satellite from Site 81 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, officially announced as Kosmos-2392. The launch took place at 19:13 Moscow Time (11:13 a.m. EST). The spacecraft was expected to separate from the upper stage of the launch vehicle at 21:27 Moscow Time (1:27 p.m. EST), after reaching a highly elliptical orbit around the Earth. Statements made by Russian space officials confirmed that the payload belonged to the Araks (Arkon) family of spacecraft developed by NPO Lavochkin. The company advertised the satellite as a dual-purpose system, designed for military and civilian observations of the Earth surface.
2002 Aug. 22: A Proton rocket launched a commercial communications satellite. The four-stage booster lifted off at 11:15 local time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying the Echostar-8 direct-broadcast satellite. The spacecraft successfully reached geosynchronous transfer orbit 6 hours and 36 minutes after the launch. The mission was delayed from June 22 and July 2002, due to technical problems with the payload and from August 20 and August 21, due to the weather.
2002 Oct. 17: A Proton rocket launched the European Integral gamma-ray observatory. The launcher lifted off from Site 200 at Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:41 local time (08:41 Moscow Time). After second firing of its Block D upper stage, the launch vehicle placed the spacecraft into a 72-hour elliptical orbit, with a perigee of 10,000 kilometers and an apogee of 153,000 kilometers from the Earth surface, or nearly half the distance to the Moon.
2002 Nov. 26: A heavy communications satellite ended up stranded in a useless orbit, after its launch vehicle failed. The Proton rocket rocket equipped with a Block DM-3 upper stage and carrying the Astra-1K communications satellite for a Luxemburg-based operator, lifted off from Pad 23 at Area 81 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 04:04 local time on Nov. 26, 2002.
The three stages of the rocket booster worked normally and the initial burn of the Block DM-3 upper stage was also completed successfully, delivering the Astra-1K into an initial low orbit. However, during the second ignition of the Block DM-3 upper stage, intended to send the spacecraft into an elliptical transfer orbit, the main engine of the stage shut down prematurely, leaving its cargo in a 203 x 179-kilometer orbit. The spacecraft then separated from its upper stage and apparently maneuvered to a slightly higher orbit; however, it didn't have propulsion power to reach operational altitude.
The Proton rocket failure came at a time of the increased competition in the satellite-launching industry and followed another launch failure of the Russian rocket in October 2002. Immediately, after the loss of the Astra-1K, The International Launch Services, ILS, a US company marketing the Proton booster to Western customers, announced that the next mission of the booster, would feature the Proton-M version of the rocket, equipped with a Briz-M upper stage instead of Block-DM.
2002 Dec. 25: A Proton-K rocket lifted off from Pad 23 at Site 81 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 10:37 Moscow Time, carrying three Uragan-M ("Hurricane") spacecraft for the GLONASS network -- the Russian equivalent of the US Global Positioning System, GPS. According to official reports, the payload successfully reached an initial parking orbit at 10:48 Moscow Time. After additional maneuvers, the trio of 1,425-kilogram satellites were to separate from the upper stage of the launch vehicle in their final orbit between 14:35 and 15:11 Moscow Time. This was the first launch of the Proton rocket with the Block DM upper stage, after a similar vehicle failed to deliver a commercial communications satellite into its final orbit on Nov. 26, 2002.
2002 Dec. 30: A Proton-M/Briz-M rocket, carrying the Nimiq 2 comsat, lifted off from Pad 24 at Site 81 in Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:17 a.m. local time (6:17 p.m. Sunday EST, 23:17 Sunday GMT). Six hours and 53 minutes later, the satellite was successfully released into a transfer orbit. The satellite, designed for direct broadcast services, was built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, and was to be operated by Telesat Canada.
A Proton/Block-DM2 rocket with a 813INT payload fairing launches Europe's Integral space observatory from Site 200 in Baikonur.
Artist rendering of the Integral observatory in orbit. Credit: ESA