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Commercial Satellite Launch History

Since the 1960s, commercial satellite launching entities like ILS have made it possible for everyone to have satellite TV, radio, and global positioning systems (GPS). In addition to satellites, commercial launching entities launch various scientific payloads.


  • On 4 October 1957, Russia orbited the first artificial satellite, Sputnik.
  • The launch of the first commercial communications satellite placed in geosynchronous orbit took place on 06 April 1965, and was launched by the United States; The Intelsat 1 was nicknamed “Early Bird.”
  • In 1980 satellites began launching on vehicles that were not wholly controlled by the government. The first privatized commercial launch entity is officially established this year, in Europe.
  • 30 October 1984, President Reagan signed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. This act gave U.S. commercial space oversight  to the newly established Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
  • In 1985, the Soviet Union began marketing contracted satellite launches on the Proton and Zenit rockets.
  • In 1988, the U.S. announces a new space policy that includes a new Commercial Space Initiative to encourage U.S. commercial satellite launches to be be privatized and limit NASA's involvement in commercial space operations.
  • In 1993, Lockheed-Khrunichev- Energia International (LKEI) joint venture to exclusively market the Russian Proton launch vehicle was formed
  • In 1995, International Launch Services was born from the LKEI venture started in 1993.
  • 9 April 1996, ILS launches its first Proton flight with the ASTRA 1F satellite; this was the first launch of a Western Satellite on a Russian Rocket; as well as the first commercial satellite launch on Proton.
  • 07 June 2003, Proton successfully launches its 300th mission with the AMC-9 launch.
  • 3 April 2009, ILS celebrated its 50th Proton launch, with the W2A satellite for Eutelsat.
  • 25 March 2012, ILS successfully completes its first SSTO mission with the successful launch of Intelsat 22.
  • 14 October 2012,  ILS Proton successfully launches its 75th mission, with the Intelsat 23 satellite onboard.
  • 15 April 2013, ILS celebrates the 20th anniversary of the commercialization of the Proton Rocket.
  • 9 July 2014, First Angara 1.2 successfully launched from Plesetsk.
  • 23 December 2014, First Angara 5 successfully launched from Plesetsk.


U.S. – Russia Partnership

commercial satellite launch on ILS Proton rocket

The commercial launch industry's main governance is the United Nation's Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, otherwise known as the Outer Space Treaty. The treaty was implemented on 10 October 1967.

This treaty, to which 125 countries have signed as of 2008, regulated not only government space flight, but commercial space flight as well. Under the treaty, it was outlined that each nation is liable for its activities in space. A nation is liable if the space entity launches from the nation, if its installation or territory is used to launch an entity or if the nation had the space device launched. In addition to naming liability, it was established that each government is responsible for monitoring private space enterprise to ensure no international laws are broken.

On 26 February 1988, five months after President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev signed an agreement to remove all medium- and short-range nuclear missiles from their respective countries, the United States’ Commerce Department granted an export license for an American payload to launch on a Soviet Proton launcher to the Mir Space Station.

A few years later, Russia began looking for an international partner to gain a larger market share of the satellite launching industry. After numerous discussions with potential venture partners, what is now known as Khrunichev State Research and Production Center (Khrunichev) decided on the Lockheed Corporation. On 28 December 1992, Khrunichev and Lockheed entered into an agreement forming a joint venture to handle Proton-K and upgrades. This venture was to instill a bigger presence of Proton in the international community. In 1993, RSC-Energia – the maker of the Block DM, entered the agreement. Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International, Inc. (LKEI) was officially registered on 15 April 1993. The venture marketed both Atlas and Proton vehicles. In 1995, LKEI was transformed into ILS International Launch Services, Inc. due to the merger of Lockheed Corporation and Martin Marietta.

ILS launched its first Proton rocket on 9 April 1996 with the ASTRA 1F satellite. In 2006, Lockheed Martin sold its shares in ILS to Space Transport Inc. (STI). This sell meant that ILS would only market Khrunichev-built rockets. On 29 May 2008, Khrunichev officially purchased all of the shares owned by STI, becoming the majority stockholder in ILS.

Since its inception, ILS has launched over 90 commercial satellites. On 3 April 2009, ILS celebrated its 50th Proton launch. Over half of the launches have been on the current vehicle, the Proton Breeze M. ILS and the Proton have had one of the most successful track records of all satellite launching entities. To accompany the Proton, ILS and Khrunichev are preparing to launch a new generation family of rockets in the upcoming decade, called Angara.

Astra 1F

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