Tim Furniss/LONDON

RUSSIA OFFICIALLY entered the commercial geostationary-orbit-satellite launcher business on 8 April, when a Proton SL-12 model was launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying the Astra 1F satellite for Luxembourg's Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES).

The launch was managed by ILS International Launch Services, a Lockheed-Energia-Krunichev consortium, which markets the Proton and Atlas vehicle fleets. The Proton is a reliable space workhorse, with 180 successful missions. There are still six outstanding contracts for the launch of Western civil-communications satellites on the Proton.

These are the Tempo 1, Inmarsat 3F4, an Echostar, the PanAmSat 5 (PAS), the MCI 1 and the Asiasat 3, which are to be confirmed officially. There are also seven launches into low-Earth orbit of 21 Motorola Iridium satellites. Hughes has also earmarked Proton launches for the PAS 8 and 9 satellites.

The Astra 1F launch is the end of an 11-year quest by the former-Soviet Union and Russia to market the Proton commercially, a venture which came to full fruition using Western marketing links.

SES's Astra 1F is a Hughes HS-601 spacecraft bus, the fourth of 11 Hughes satellites to be launched this year, equipped with 22 Ku-band transponders for direct-to-home television services to Europe and to be co-located with other Astra craft at 19.2ûE in geostationary orbit.

Source: Flight International