PARIS - Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) expects to begin commercial operations of its new Express-AM33 telecommunications satellite by early March following a successful Jan. 28 launch by a Russian Proton-M rocket from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, RSCC said.

The 2,600-kilogram Express-AM33 spacecraft was built by Russia's NPO-PM, the prime contractor on the project. The spacecraft's payload, which was provided by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, carries 10 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders, plus a single L-band transponder. It will operate from 96.5 degrees east longitude and will serve customers in Russia and in the Asia-Pacific region. Express-AM33 has an expected in-orbit service life of 12 years.

NPO-PM and RSCC said in separate statements that the satellite had successfully separated from the Proton-M's Breeze-M upper stage, deployed its solar panels and begun communicating with ground controllers.

RSCC had told prospective Asian customers in mid-2007 that the satellite would be launched in September of that year. The company later expressed frustration that the delivery of the payload, built in France, would not occur soon enough to permit a 2007 launch.

RSCC has plans to launch the Express-AM44 satellite, which is being built by the same team led by NPO-PM and Thales Alenia Space, in mid-2008.

The apparent ease with which RSCC was able to insert the Express-AM33 into the crowded launch manifest of the Proton vehicle irked another Proton customer, Telenor of Norway, sources said. Telenor's Thor 2R satellite was forced to give up its slot on behalf of the RSCC satellite, which is viewed as part of Russia's Federal Space Program.

Thor 2R, which is being launched under a commercial contract managed by International Launch Services, is scheduled for launch Feb. 10, according to Proton's prime contractor, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.