Enclosed in the nose fairing of a Russian Proton rocket, the Zarya Control Module lifted off at 11:40 a.m. local time (1:40 a.m.EST, 9:40 a.m. Moscow time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the steppes of the Asian nation of Kazakstan, the first component of an international complex involving five Partner agencies and more than a dozen nations.
The launch was viewed in person by NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, Russian Space Agency General-Director Yuri Koptev and other heads of the Partner agencies along with a host of station program officials.
After a flawless countdown, the 180-foot long Proton rocket thundered away on a trajectory carrying the Zarya to an initial orbit about 220 statute miles by 115 statute miles. A little less than 10 minutes after launch, the Proton's third stage separated from Zarya, triggering a sequence of pre-programmed commands to deploy critical communications and rendezvous antennas. Three minutes later, Zarya's large solar arrays unfurled, enabling the module to convert sunlight into electricity through a wingspan of 80 feet. Zarya's docking probe was also extended for its linkup to the Russian Service Module following that component's launch next summer.
A little more than three hours after launch, computer commands were successful sent to Zarya by Russian flight controllers to place the module in an orientation which will provide even heating on the spacecraft.
Other key activities today included a successful test of the solar arrays' ability to articulate, or follow the sun as the new module travels around the Earth.
Tomorrow, one of Zarya's two large maneuvering engines will be test-fired to insure its ability to raise or adjust the module's orbit. Then, later in the day Saturday, the engine will be fired again to raise the perigee, or lower portion of Zarya's orbit, from 115 statute miles to about 157 statute miles. Zarya will fly in an almost circular orbit by next Tuesday, 243 by 233 statute miles, following three additional engine firings.
Russian and American flight controllers at the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow and U.S. controllers at the International Space Station Flight Control Room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston were on console for the historic launch and are now following the activation of Zarya's systems. They will be involved in the round-the-clock monitoring of space station systems for the lifetime of the new facility.
Zarya's successful launch set the stage for the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour on December 3 on the STS-88 mission to carry the next component of the new station to orbit --- the Unity connecting hub, or node. Zarya will be grappled by astronaut Nancy Currie, who will use Endeavour's robot arm to capture the Control Module for its mating to Unity, which will be housed in the Shuttle's cargo bay.
Flight controllers report that Zarya's systems are functioning normally in the early hours of its life on orbit.