Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Launches U.S. TV Satellite

In a dramatic streak of fire set against a jet-black sky, a Russian rocket successfully carried a U.S. telecommunications satellite into orbit early Tuesday morning, marking a new era in space cooperation by the Cold War superpowers.

The launch of a Proton D-1-E rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was the first time a Russian rocket has carried a U.S. commercial satellite. It is the first of 20 commercial launches scheduled to take place by 2000 as part of a $1 billion program approved by the U.S. government.

"I am pleased to report that [the satellite] is doing very well. It has separated on time ... and we are basically on our time line," Donald Cromer, president of satellite maker Hughes Space and Communications Company, told a news conference in Moscow.

Nearly 200 U.S. experts and officials watched the launch from a tent near the cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppes, still the main launching site for the Russian space program, Reuters reported.

The launch signals Russia's emergence alongside the United States, China and a European consortium as a major player in technical director of Soci?t? Europ?enne des Satellites, or SES, the Luxembourg-based communications company which owns the satellite.

It reached geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the earth at 9:43 a.m. Moscow time, about seven hours after the launch, officials said. Barring problems, it should remain operational for as long as 20 years.

"This was the first launch on a Proton rocket of a Western communication satellite," said Charles Lloyd, president of International Launch Services, or ILS, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin's Commercial Launch Services, Khrunichev Enterprise and RSC Energiya in Russia. ILS represented Khrunichev, the Russian manufacturer of the Proton rocket.

One expert said the Proton is considered to have a high level of reliability.

"The Proton is a very good rocket and it is reasonably priced," said Stephane Chenard, a space analyst at Euroconsult in Paris, adding that the Proton is the only Russian vehicle capable of putting large communications satellites into orbit.

Torres declined to disclose financial details of the deal, only saying "we got good commercial conditions." Russian rockets are considered less expensive alternatives to U.S. and European vehicles.

Lloyd said negotiations for the deal were three years in the making.

Alexander Lebedev, deputy general director of Khrunichev Space Center, said Tuesday's launch was the first of 20 commercial satellite launches due to take place by 2000 under an agreement between the center and the ILS venture.

"Many are justifiably impressed by the high quality of the Proton rocket, its reliability and high technical quality," Lebedev said at the Moscow press conference.

Torres said the decision by SES to choose the Proton rocket was guided by the fact that Khrunichev was the only company that could conduct a launch within the company's timetable.

The Astra 1F is the sixth satellite launched by SES, and will be part of a network of communication satellites with 150 million users in Europe. The previous five were launched by European Ariane-4 rockets.

"Hopefully we will be ready to start commercial operations in the beginning of June," Torres said.

SES plans to launch two more satellites next year, but the company will decide in May which rocket will carry the next two, he said.