Spaceflight Now: Atlas launch report


BY JUSTIN RAY

February 4, 2000 -- Read our description of the countdown and launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket and the Spanish Hispasat 1C communications satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

0500 GMT (12:00 a.m. EST)

Neither the weather nor a minor technical problem could spoil tonight's launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket carrying the Spanish Hispasat 1C communications satellite. Read our launch story for complete wrap on this mission.

Also check out our launch video and photo gallery of images from the countdown and liftoff.

This will conclude our Mission Status Center coverage of the AC-158 launch.

0005 GMT (7:05 p.m. EST)

The Hispasat 1C spacecraft has been acquired by a ground station, confirming the satellite is alive following its delivery into orbit tonight.

Check back later tonight for video and images of the launch.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2000
2359 GMT (6:59 p.m. EST)


T+plus 29 minutes. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Spanish Hispasat 1C spacecraft has separated from the Centaur upper stage following tonight's successful launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket. The launch of AC-158 marks the 48th consecutive success for Atlas rockets dating back to 1993.

2358 GMT (6:58 p.m. EST)

T+plus 28 minutes, 30 seconds. Spinup of Hispasat 1C to 1.5 rpm has started.

2358 GMT (6:58 p.m. EST)

T+plus 28 minutes. The quick-look data indicates a good orbit was achieved from the second Centaur firing.

2357 GMT (6:57 p.m. EST)

T+plus 27 minutes. Maneuvers to the spacecraft deployment attitude has started by Centaur.

2356 GMT (6:56 p.m. EST)

T+plus 26 minutes, 20 seconds. Cutoff of the Centaur engines has occurred as planned. This completes the powered phase of tonight's launch. Standing by for spacecraft separation in about 2 1/2 minutes.

2355 GMT (6:55 p.m. EST)

T+plus 25 minutes. Everything looking normal for this second burn of Centaur, expected to last one-minutes, 47 seconds seconds.

2354 GMT (6:54 p.m. EST)

T+plus 24 minutes, 30 seconds. Centaur has reignited and both RL-10 engines reported nominal.

2353 GMT (6:53 p.m. EST)

T+plus 23 minutes. Now 90 seconds from the second burn of Centaur to deliver Hispasat 1C into the intended orbit.

2352 GMT (6:52 p.m. EST)

T+plus 22 minutes. Propellant tank pressures are as expected.

2350 GMT (6:50 p.m. EST)

T+plus 20 minutes. Restart of the Centaur will occur in about 4 1/2 minutes.

2348 GMT (6:48 p.m. EST)

T+plus 18 minutes. Vehicle rates and battery voltages are reported normal in this coast phase.

2346 GMT (6:46 p.m. EST)

T+plus 16 minutes. There is really nothing to report at this point in the flight. The Centaur upper stage and spacecraft are in a quiet coast period over the Central Atlantic Ocean approaching the equator. Centaur restart is expected at T+plus 24 minutes, 30 seconds.

2342 GMT (6:42 p.m. EST)

T+plus 12 minutes. The data on the parking orbit achieved by the Atlas/Centaur rocket appears right on the money tonight. The apogee is 373.3 km, perigee of 151.0 km and inclination of 27.2 degrees. All is within a tenth of kilometer.

2340 GMT (6:40 p.m. EST)

T+plus 10 minutes, 30 seconds. Data from the rocket is now being received through the orbiting NASA TDRS satellite system.

2340 GMT (6:40 p.m. EST)

T+plus 10 minutes. Confirmation now that the two Centaur engines have shut down as planned. The vehicle has reached orbital velocity. Centaur, with Hispasat 1C attached, is in an elliptical parking orbit. The duo will now quietly coast now for the next 14 minutes.

2339 GMT (6:39 p.m. EST)

T+plus 9 minutes. Coming up on shutdown of the Centaur upper stage in less than one minute.

2337 GMT (6:37 p.m. EST)

T+plus 7 minutes. Centaur continues to fire as expected. No problems have been reported so far in this launch. Vehicle speed up to 12,000 miles per hour.

2335 GMT (6:35 p.m. EST)

T+plus 5 minutes, 20 seconds. Ignition and full thrust verified on Centaur. Centaur now in the longer of its two scheduled firings.

2335 GMT (6:35 p.m. EST)

T+plus 5 minutes, 5 seconds. The sustainer engine has cut off and Atlas stage separation confirmed.

2333 GMT (6:33 p.m. EST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. Fairing has separated.

2333 GMT (6:33 p.m. EST)

T+plus 3 minutes. Air-start solids have been released. The booster package has been jettisoned from the Atlas stage. No problems reported so far in the flight. Sustainer engine of the vehicle still burning as expected.

2331 GMT (6:31 p.m. EST)

T+plus 90 seconds. Now 16 miles downrange.

2331 GMT (6:31 p.m. EST)

T+plus 70 seconds. Ground-start solids have separated. Air-lits have ignited.

2330 GMT (6:30 p.m. EST)

T+plus 30 seconds. Vehicle right into the clouds and out of view. Roll maneuver completed to position the vehicle on the proper trajectory.

2330 GMT (6:30 p.m. EST)

LIFTOFF. Liftoff of the Atlas rocket launching the Hispasat 1C spacecraft to bridge Europe and the Americas for Spanish language communications.

2329 GMT (6:29 p.m. EST)

T-minus 31 seconds. Launch Sequence Start.

In the next few seconds the inertial navigation unit's countdown will be started, the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked and the flight data recorders will be readied.

2329 GMT (6:29 p.m. EST)

T-minus 1 minute. Engines are being verified ready for flight and final status checks are under way.

In the past minute, the inertial navigation unit was launch enabled, liquid hydrogen tanking was secured, fuel tank pressures stable, solid rocket boosters armed and the ignition enable switch was closed.

2328 GMT (6:28 p.m. EST)

T-minus 2 minutes. Pressurization of the Atlas/Centaur vehicle has started. Tanks now being brought to proper pressure levels for flight. Engine preparations are completed.

Shortly, the rocket's inadventant separation destruct safety system will be armed, the Centaur upper stage will go to internal power and the flight termination system will be armed.

2327 GMT (6:27 p.m. EST)

T-minus 3 minutes. The water system is being readied for activation at launch pad 36B.

2326 GMT (6:26 p.m. EST)

T-minus 4 minutes. The Atlas booster stage and Flight Termination System have gone on internal power.

2325 GMT (6:25 p.m. EST)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting. The countdown has resumed for launch of Atlas/Centaur-158 with the Hispasat 1C communications satellite. There are no problems standing in the way of liftoff.

2323 GMT (6:23 p.m. EST)

The launch team has been polled and the countdown has been cleared to resume in two minutes. Launch of the Atlas rocket is planned for 6:30 p.m. EST.

2321 GMT (6:21 p.m. EST)

In about one minute, the launch team will be polled to verify all systems are indeed ready to pick up the countdown at 6:25 p.m. EST.

2320 GMT (6:20 p.m. EST)

The Range reports it is go for launch, weather has gone green and upper level winds are now acceptable. Liftoff is set for 6:30 p.m. EST.

2319 GMT (6:19 p.m. EST)

The engineers troubleshooting the FTS receiver No. 1 issue recommend picking up the countdown and if the problem reoccurs, the countdown will be stopped.

2317 GMT (6:17 p.m. EST)

There has been no update on the weather or upper level winds. However, the launch conductor has verified the plan to resume the countdown from T-minus 5 minutes at 6:25 p.m. for liftoff at 6:30 p.m. EST.

2312 GMT (6:12 p.m. EST)

Engineers are still trying to understand the FTS receiver No. 1 problem. Earlier in the countdown the a voltage jump was noted. A special test a short time ago did not repeat the problem. The issue has not been put to rest.

In addition, clouds and upper level winds remain constraints to launch tonight.

2310 GMT (6:10 p.m. EST)

The launch team has extended this hold an additional 10 minutes, pushing liftoff to no earlier than 6:30 p.m. EST. Tonight's launch window extends to 7:02 p.m. EST.

2308 GMT (6:08 p.m. EST)

An internal power test conducted to check the health of the rocket's Flight Termination System receiver No. 1 has been successful. The FTS would be used to destroy the rocket should a problem arise during launch.

2306 GMT (6:06 p.m. EST)

Launch is now expected no sooner than 6:20 p.m. EST while anvil clouds are evaluated around Cape Canaveral.

2305 GMT (6:05 p.m. EST)

The countdown remains holding at T-minus 5 minutes. Launch is on hold by weather and a technical problem, the Atlas rocket's flight termination receiver No. 1 which is being tested.

2303 GMT (6:03 p.m. EST)

Still no official word on the weather. Meanwhile, a problem with the flight termination system is being worked.

2300 GMT (6:00 p.m. EST)

The launch team is expected to extend this built-in hold beyond the normal 15-minute duration. That would delay liftoff past 6:10 p.m. EST.

2257 GMT (5:57 p.m. EST)

The launch vehicle, spacecraft and Range systems are all reported ready for launch. However, discussions on the weather and upper level winds continue.

2255 GMT (5:55 p.m. EST)

Darkness is beginning to set in at Cape Canaveral Air Station. The countdown remains in the built-in hold at T-minus 5 minutes. There has been no update from Lockheed Martin on the weather or the chance of launching on schedule at 6:10 p.m. EST (2310 GMT).

2250 GMT (5:50 p.m. EST)

Countdown clocks have entered the final planned built-in hold for tonight's launch attempt. During this 15-minute period, the launch team will have a chance to catch up on any work that could be running behind schedule. In addition, managers will poll various members of the launch team to ensure all systems are ready for liftoff.

Again, weather is currently "no go" for launch, Lockheed Martin reports.

2248 GMT (5:48 p.m. EST)

Standing by to go into the T-minuts 5 minute hold in two minutes. This hold is scheduled to last 15 minutes in duration. However, if the weather and upper level winds do not improve by the end of the hold, clocks remain stopped. Tonight's available launch window extends from 6:10 to 7:02 p.m. EST (2310-0002 GMT).

2243 GMT (5:43 p.m. EST)

The weather conditions remain "no go" for launch due to clouds. The area of rain showing up on radar over eastern Orange County and western Brevard County may be false echoes. Also, upper level winds are out of limits, Lockheed Martin says.

2235 GMT (5:35 p.m. EST)

T-minus 20 minutes. Countdown clocks are ticking toward the T-minus 5 minute mark where a 15-minute long hold is planned. Standing by for a weather briefing momentarily.

2227 GMT (5:27 p.m. EST)

Weather officials are watching a band of showers headed straight for Cape Canaveral Air Station from the west.

2226 GMT (5:26 p.m. EST)

The loading of the Atlas booster and Centaur upper stage with super-cold cryogenic propellant is now wrapping. However, give the cold nature of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, the cryogenics naturally boil away during the countdown. As a result, the tanks will be topped off until just minutes prior to liftoff. RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, was loaded aboard the Atlas stage last week.

2223 GMT (5:23 p.m. EST)

The Flight Termination System self-test has now about to start. The FTS would be used to destroy the Atlas rocket should problem occur during the launch.

2219 GMT (5:19 p.m. EST)

The Air Force reports weather continues to be a concern with a 70 percent chance conditions will not be acceptable for launch. Weather conditions are currently red.

Meanwhile, Centaur liuqid hydrogen tanking to flight level is under.

2210 GMT (5:10 p.m. EST)

Now one hour away from the launch of the Atlas rocket with the Hispasat 1C satellite. However, weather continues to be a major concern for launch. Tonight's launch window extends 52 minutes until 7:02 p.m. EST.

2206 GMT (5:06 p.m. EST)

Centaur liquid hydrogen now at 60 percent.

2201 GMT (5:01 p.m. EST)

Atlas liquid oxygen at flight level.

2159 GMT (4:59 p.m. EST)

Centaur liquid hydrogen now at 10 percent.

2155 GMT (4:55 p.m. EST)

Liquid hydrogen chilldown is now complete and loading operations are cleared to begin for the Centaur upper stage. Atlas liquid oxygen tank is 60 percent full.

2154 GMT (4:54 p.m. EST)

During the chilldown of the liquid hydrogen system a brief four-second excursion was noted outside the allowable temperature limits. The recommendation has been made to continue with chilldown as this is not a problem.

2149 GMT (4:49 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is now being topped off to 100 percent. Also, the Atlas liquid oxygen tank is at 10 percent.

2140 GMT (4:40 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has been secured at 95 percent. Liquid oxygen loading of the Atlas booster stage is now starting.

2138 GMT (4:38 p.m. EST)

Ninety percent of the Centaur liquid oxygen tank has been filled.

2135 GMT (4:35 p.m. EST)

The chilldown conditioning of liquid hydrogen propellant feed lines at pad 36B is now starting. This is done to thermally prepare the plumbing before the super-cold cryogenic flows through the pipes and into the rocket. Also at this time, the Complex 36 Blockhouse doors are being sealed.

2132 GMT (4:32 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is now 40 percent full.

The U.S. Air Force through the Eastern Range reports there are no collision avoidance periods, or COLAs, tonight that would prohibit liftoff during a portion of the 52-minute window. Before every launch the Air Force verifies there are no collision potentials with any objects already in space.

2128 GMT (4:28 p.m. EST)

Good afternoon from Press Site 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida. Welcome to our live launch coverage of the Atlas rocket and Hispasat 1C. Our reports are coming to you from a position about two miles away from the rocket.

The good news is the countdown is on track for launch at 6:10 p.m. EST (2310 GMT). The bad news is the weather, which is cold and very cloudy. Overall, there is now a 70 percent chance the weather will prohibit the launch tonight.

The Integrated Launch Operations began at 2:55 p.m. EST. At pad 36B, the mobile service tower began rolling away from the Atlas booster at 3:27 p.m., arriving in the launch position less than ten minutes later.

The launch team is now active in fueling the rocket. Loading of liquid oxygen into the Centaur upper stage has started and the tank is now 10 percent full.

1650 GMT (11:50 a.m. EST)

The U.S. Air Force launch weather team has issued its latest forecast for tonight's Atlas rocket mission. The forecast still shows a 60 percent chance of good weather with the main threats coming from unacceptable cloud conditions.

Launch Weather Officer Jim Sardonia has this update:

"Two main concerns for tonight's launch attempt include the presence of thick layered clouds and anvil clouds from thunderstorms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico which may violate our Triggered Lightning Launch Commit Criteria. The thickness of the cloud layers is expected to decrease as some drier air aloft is moving into central Florida from the north. Conditions improve on Friday as much drier air is expected to clear the skies over CCAS."

Meteorologists are predicting launch time conditions to include scattered cumulus clouds with 3/8ths sky coverage from 3,000 to 7,000 feet, altocumulus clouds broken with 5/8ths sky coverage from 12,000 to 18,000 feet and cirrostratus broken with 6/8ths sky coverage from 20,000 to 25,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles, northwesterly winds 12 gusting to 18 knots, a temperature of 59 to 61 degrees F, relative humidity of 90 percent and scattered rainshowers in vicinity.

The overall probability of violating weather constraints is 40 percent due to proximity to thick layered clouds and anvil clouds.

Should the launch be delayed 24 hours, the forecast improves to only a 10 percent chance of bad weather due to surface-level winds gusting above the 24-knot limit at pad 36B. If the launch slips to Saturday, there is a 30 percent chance of violation due to the gusty winds.

1430 GMT (9:30 a.m. EST)

The countdown has started at Cape Canaveral Air Station for tonight's sunset launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket and Spanish Hispasat 1C communications satellite. Liftoff is still set for 6:10 p.m. EST (2310 GMT) from pad 36B.

Weather forecasters remain cautiously optimistic conditions will permit a launch during the available 52-minute window extending to 7:02 p.m. EST (0002 GMT).

At this early point in the countdown, the Atlas rocket is being powered up and computer systems checked. The full launch team will arrive at their consoles in the Complex 36 Blockhouse at 2:55 p.m. EST (1955 GMT) to start the Integrated Launch Operations for Atlas-Centaur 158. The protective mobile service tower enclosing the Atlas rocket at pad 36B will be rolled into the launch position at 3:10 p.m. EST (2010 GMT).

After a planned 30-minute hold in the countdown, preparations will begin in earnest to load the super-cold cryogenics into the Atlas booster and Centaur upper stage. This three-step tanking process will begin with loading Centaur's liquid oxygen starting at about 4:24 p.m. EST (2124 GMT). Atlas liquid oxygen tanking should begin at 4:50 p.m. EST (2150 GMT). Fuel of Centaur with liquid hydrogen will follow at 5:04 p.m. EST (2204 GMT).

Another hold is planned at T-minus 5 minutes, and will last for 15 minutes. If there are no technical problems and weather conditions cooperate, clocks will resume for the final phase of the countdown. During those final five minutes, the Atlas and Centaur stages will switch to internal power, the flight termination system and strap-on solid rocket boosters will be armed and near-total control of the countdown will be assumed by computers at T-minus 31 seconds.

It will take the rocket 28 minutes and 56.2 seconds from the time of liftoff to deliver the Hispasat 1C spacecraft into orbit, releasing the 6,862-pound craft into a highly elliptical transfer orbit.

The intended orbital parameters at spacecraft separation should include an apogee altitude of 24,863 nautical miles, perigee altitude of 90 nautical miles and inclination of 18.8 degrees.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2000
2200 GMT (5:00 p.m. EST)


A Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket has been cleared for launch tomorrow from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida. Liftoff is set for 6:10 p.m. EST (2310 GMT), the opening of a 52-minute window.

AC-158, the second Atlas launch of the year, will carry the Spanish Hispasat 1C communications satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit. The craft will later use its onboard propulsion system to reach its final destination -- a parking slot 22,300 miles above the Atlantic.

The satellite will be used to relay television and other telecommunications services to most of Europe, as well as North and South America.

The weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions. The concerns will be thick clouds and rain. Air Force launch weather Jim Sardonia gives this overview:

"Models are now forecasting a much weaker upper-level low to develop in the Gulf of Mexico today and then move into south Florida early Thursday. Increased moisture from the south is expected as this system moves across the southern Florida peninsula. Some scattered rainshowers, intermittent thick cloud layers and increased surface winds are possible within 10 nautical miles of SLC 36. Conditions are expected to improve Friday and Saturday as the system exits the Florida coast to the east."

The launch time forecast calls for cumulus clouds scattered at 3,000 feet, broken altocumulus clouds at 12,000 feet and broken cirrostratus clouds at 20,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles, northwesterly winds 12 gusting to 20 knots, a temperature between 59 and 61 degrees F, relative humidity of 90 percent and scattered rainshowers in the vicinity.

Should the launch be delayed until Friday or Saturday, the forecast improves to a 90 percent chance of good conditions both days.

Officials held the traditional Launch Readiness Review today, clearing the rocket and satellite for flight. One issue is being worked by technicians, a faulty battery in the rocket's safety destruct system, but it shouldn't pose a threat the an on-time launch. Workers plan to replace battery without impact to the countdown preparations.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2AS (AC-158)
Payload: Hispasat 1C
Launch date: Feb. 3, 2000
Launch window: 2310-0002 GMT (6:10-7:02 p.m. EST)
Launch site: SLC-36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla.

Photo gallery
Launch - Images from Thursday's countdown and launch.

Video vault
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket lifts off with the Hispasat 1C communications satellite from Cape Canaveral.
  PLAY (281K, 32sec QuickTime file)

Launch Weather Officer Jim Sardonia gives the forecast for Thursday's Atlas rocket launch attempt.
  PLAY (594k, 1min 31sec QuickTime file)

An in-depth look at the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket and Centaur upper stage that will launch Hispasat 1C.
  PLAY (431k, 1min 02sec QuickTime file)

Pre-launch briefing
Atlas 2AS vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch Hispasat 1C into space.

Hispasat 1C - Description of the satellite to be launched on AC-158.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Launch windows - Available windows for future launch dates of AC-158.

Atlas index - Listing of our previous Atlas coverage.

Explore the Net
International Launch Services - Lockheed Martin-led consortium which globally markets the U.S. Atlas and Russian Proton rockets.

Lockheed Martin Astronautics - U.S. company which builds and launches the Atlas family of rockets.

Hispasat - Spanish company that will use Hispasat 1C for communications services between Europe and Americas.

Alcatel Space - European company that built the Hispasat 1C satellite.

3rd SLS - U.S. Air Force Space Launch Squadron responsible for the Atlas at Cape Canaveral.

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