The launch occurred at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1932 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the three satellites separated from their booster at about 2324 GMT.
The Russian GLONASS system will become both a rival of, and partner with, the U.S. GPS (global positioning system). Later, the European Union’s (along with the European Space Agency) Galileo positioning system will also compete and work together with the Russian and American systems. Galileo is expected to be complete by 2013.
The original Russian system was started by the former Soviet Union in 1976 (with the first successful launch in 1982). It was completed in 1995 but was soon abandoned as Soviet Union collapsed (in the late-1990s) and soon reorganized into Russia. Many of its former states became independent countries.
One such state is Kazakhstan, which rents the Baikonur Cosmodrome to Russia for its space launches.
Russia, with India as its partner, expects to have a full complement of satellites (24 operational ones and three backup satellites) in three orbital planes by 2009 or 2010.
According to the Novosti news agency, which in English is called the Russian Information Agency (RIA), the three satellites launched by the improved Proton-M launch system on Tuesday will join the other fifteen operational GLONASS satellites in orbit—thirteen long-term satellites and two satellites that will be decommissioned sometime in the near future.
This group of eighteen satellites completes the basic group of satellites.
These newest members of the GLONASS family of satellites have an intended service life of seven years.
The complete group of GLONASS satellites will include twenty-four GLONASS-M and GLONASS-K satellites. This number of satellites will give Russia a “worldwide” coverage.
With the 18 satellites currently working in orbit, Russia has “near-constant” coverage for only its Russian territories.
Six additional GLONASS-M satellites will be launched in 2008 and two improved GLONASS-K satellites are expected to be launched in 2009.
The GLONASS satellites are positioned about 12,000 miles (19,300 kilometers) above the Earth at an inclination of 64.8 degrees.
This article is based on the RIA Novosti article “New Glonass satellites due to operate for seven years.”