Tim Furniss/LONDON

The prospects for a launch of the Russian Zvezda service module to the International Space Station (ISS) in July were raised on 12 February by the successful lift-off of a four-stage Proton DM booster from Baikonur. The rocket carried the Asia Cellular System (ACeS) Garuda 1 mobile personal communications systems satellite.

Launch of the first regional mobile telecommunications system satellite designed for Asia was the first successful Proton mission since two launch failures last year. These led to the grounding of the booster for three months. The launch was also the 13th successful Proton mission by International Launch Services (ILS).

Garuda will provide voice, facsimile, data and Internet services through fixed and hand-held mobile and fixed terminals in Asia. Partners in ACeS are the satellite's builder Lockheed Martin, Khrunichev and ILS. The satellite is one of the most powerful telecommunications satellites yet launched, with 14kW capability and, at 4,500kg (9,900lb), the heaviest single commercial payload launched on the Proton. The booster performed a commercial first, with a three-burn injection into 36,000 x 6,000km (22,400 x 3,700 miles) geostationary transfer orbit.

NASA and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency say the 19,050kg Zvezda service module will be launched on a three-stage Proton model between 8 and 14 July. The announcement followed a meeting in Moscow between the Russian Aviation and Space Agency and NASA after criticism of Russia's ISS efforts by NASA administrator Dan Goldin.

Zvezda will provide living quarters for ISS crews and will feature life support, electrical power distribution, data management, flight control and propulsion systems. Zvezda is 13.1m (43ft) long with a solar panel wingspan of 29.7m. It has three pressurised compartments and four docking ports.

Zvezda will take 16 days to fly to the ISS and dock with the Zarya control module. The STS101 Atlantis mission in April will precede the Zvezda to prepare the Zarya and Unity modules to receive it and perform checks of their systems. The modules have been unmanned since May.

Two Russian cosmonauts will fly on a similar Atlantis mission, STS106, after the Zvezda is attached. If the Zvezda mission fails, the NASA Interim Control Module will be launched on STS106.

Although an ISS assembly mission, STS92, is set for June, no decisions have been made about the space station launch schedule. STS92 was due to fly after Zvezda was in orbit, but it may fly before the module arrives to keep the programme momentum going.

Source: Flight International