Russia’s Proton rocket successfully lifts off from Baikonur

Russia’s Proton rocket successfully lifts off from Baikonur
Russia’s Proton-M rocket, carrying the European Astra 2E communication satellite, successfully blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 21:38 GMT.

"The liftoff took place successfully, according to estimated time, at 01:38 Moscow time (21:38 GMT),” a Roskosmos representative told Ria Novosti.

The booster is carrying a 6-ton Astra 2E satellite manufactured by French EADS Astrium for the satellite operator SES Astra. The satellite is designed for the retransmission of radio and television programs in both analog and digital formats, as well as providing service to mobile and Internet connection subscribers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

It was the first launch of a Proton rocket since July, when a booster, hauling three GLONASS navigation satellites, came crashing down into the cosmodrome moments after liftoff.

An investigation into the failure discovered that the rocket had stabilization problems, prompting fail-safe mechanisms to kick in. The rocket turned upside down, burst in flames and broke into pieces, which came crashing down with an explosion. No one was injured, and there was no damage reported to the launch site. The loss of the booster and three satellites, however, was estimated at about $137 million.

The Proton-M boosters are made by Russia’s Khrunichev space center. Out of some 389 Proton rocket booster launches since 1965, only 23 were unsuccessful. This year's accident was the second such error with the booster itself since August 2007, when the first and the second stages of a rocket failed to undock.