The same weekend America is launching a secretive spy satellite with mid-launch media blackouts, Russia launched a new private communications rig on a constant live stream. The new satellite will provide communications and tv signals for Russia and surrounding countries.

Top image: Spacecraft on pad 24 of site 81 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

Proton rocket being erected prior to launch. Image credit: Roscosmos

A Proton rocket launched out of Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, carrying Yamal 401 into orbit. The launch was at 00:16 GMT on December 15th (that's early morning local time, or 7:16 p.m. EST on December 14th).

This was the 400th launch for the Proton rocket. The Proton is a medium-to-heavy lifter, capable of boosting satellites into Medium Earth Orbit. It's the rocket that carried the Zarya and Zvezda modules of the International Space Station into orbit, as well as chunks of the earlier Mir space station.

Proton rocket being erected prior to launch. Image credit: Khrunichev

Liftoff of the Proton rocket. Image credit: Roscosmos

Yamal 401 is a communications satellite run by Gazprom Space Systems. The satellite will sit in a geostationary orbit, providing C-band and Ku-band coverage in Russia and neighbouring countries. The 2,976 kilogram satellite uses a pair of solar panels to generate 10.6 kilowatts of power, enough to run 53 transponders and 6 antennas.

Yamal 401 undergoing checks before being loaded up for launch. Image credit: Yuzhny Space Center

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After liftoff, the spacecraft experienced an orbital sunrise, using the sun to correctly orient itself. After a standard ascent profile, the Briz-M upper stage took over to navigate to the correct location to drop the payload in orbit.

Orbital profile for the rocket launch and satellite payload. Image credit: International Launch Services

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It's a long, meandering process: first the spacecraft gets into a circular parking orbit, then transitions to an intermediate orbit, then a transfer orbit, then finally to the target geosynchronous orbit. Payload release is scheduled for a full nine hours, one minute after launch! Once the satellite is released, Briz will fire twice more to maneuver into a disposal orbit and dump its fuel tanks to minimize the risk of exploding and adding to space junk.

Erection of the Proton rocket prior to launch. Image credit: Roscosmos

The pre-operation checkout process is quick for this type of satellite: if everything goes well, it will start operating in January 2015. The satellite has an expected lifespan of fifteen years.

Read more about the launch on Spaceflight 101 or SEN, and about the Yamal 401 payload on Russian SpaceWeb.