MOSCOW, February 14 (RIA Novosti) – A Proton rocket carrying a Turkish satellite is scheduled to lift off early Saturday in the first launch of Russia’s largest rocket this year, the Russian space agency told RIA Novosti.
The launch from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan will be the sixth since a three-month suspension after one of the rockets exploded shortly after liftoff in July. The accident sent 600 tons of highly-toxic flaming propellants raining down on the surrounding Kazakh countryside.
The Turksat-4A, manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric of Japan, arrived at Baikonur by plane last month and was rolled out atop a Proton-M earlier this week.
The five-metric-ton telecommunications satellite will be stationed in a geosynchronous orbit through successive burns of the Russian Briz-M upper stage.
It will provide television broadcast and data services for customers in Turkey as well as in Europe, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to Turksat.
Moscow and Astana quarreled over the nearly $90 million cleanup bill following the July accident. Kazakhstan has repeatedly called for a reduction in launches of the rocket over concerns about the environmental impact of its highly-toxic fuel.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos said last year that the Proton is slated for retirement after 2020, following the introduction later this decade of the new Angara rocket to be launched from Russia’s Far Eastern Vostochny Cosmodrome.
Kazakh media reported earlier this week that a bilateral working group in Moscow would finalize recommendations on the frequency of launches of the Proton. A Kazakh space official said last week that there would be 10 launches of the Proton this year, down from a planned manifest of 14, without explaining the decrease.
Moscow currently leases Baikonur – the launch site of Sputnik and Yury Gagarin and the only facility capable of launching the Proton – from Kazakhstan for $115 million annually.
Proton Carrier Rocket