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    VLADIMIR PUTIN OBSERVES MISSILE LAUNCH

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    PLESETSK SPACE CENTER/MOSCOW, FEBRUARY 18 (RIA Novosti) - A Molniya (Lightning) launch vehicle lifted off in the morning of February 18 from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia's Arkhangelsk region, carrying a Cosmos military-communications satellite.

    The launch was observed by President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, who arrived in Plesetsk the other day.

    This is the first spacecraft to be launched this year in the interests of the Russian Defense Ministry, reports the national Space Force's press center.

    All pre-launch operations were conducted as planned; the same can be said about the Molniya-M medium-size rocket launch. This information was disclosed by the press center at the Space Force's command center, as well as at the Cosmonaut Titov main spacecraft test-and-control center. Ground stations are tracking the Molniya-M rocket and its spacecraft all the time.

    The Molniya-M launcher was designed and built by specialists from the Energia space-rocket corporation. The No. 1 design bureau started developing this rocket in the late 1950s under the supervision of general designer Sergei Korolev, who facilitated all initial space launches. The Molniya-M, which features a fourth stage, and which is a modified version of the well-known Vostok and Voskhod rockets, was used to launch interplanetary probes in the direction of Venus and Mars. The first Soviet cosmonauts also blasted off atop these rockets in the early 1960s.

    This rocket places various communications-satellite models into highly elliptical orbits.

    The Molniya-M fires environmentally-friendly fuel components, i.e. liquid oxygen and kerosene.

    The four-stage Molniya-M rocket can orbit spacecraft with a mass of up to 2,000 kg. Experts admit this medium-size launcher is one of the world's most dependable space rockets.

    The first Molniya-M rocket was launched from Plesetsk February 19, 1970, with this northern Russian space center orbiting a total of 223 Molniya-M launch vehicles.

    All in all, Plesetsk has launched 1,534 space rockets, also orbiting 1,956 different spacecraft. Its experts have upgraded five launch-vehicle types, as well as over 30 spacecraft models.

    Putin inspected the Molniya-M launch pad before lift-off.

    The Commander-In-Chief, who was wearing a camouflage uniform, arrived at the launch facility early in the morning; he was accompanied by Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Col.-Gen. Anatoly Perminov, who commands the national Space Force, RIA Novosti reports.

    Putin was quite interested, while examining the launch vehicle; he also observed final pre-launch reparations.

    The Russian leader would be expected to watch an RS-18 rocket lift off from Russia's Baikonur state space-vehicle testing center in Kazakhstan live on TV.

    Putin is to answer reporters' questions, after official events wind up.

    The President of Russia organized a conference dealing with the Space Forces situation and development prospects immediately upon arrival.

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