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The Mission




Rocket: Atlas 3 (AC-202)
Payload: MBSAT
Date: March 13, 2004
Window: 12:40 to 2:10 a.m. EST (0540-0710 GMT)
Site: Complex 36B, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Satellite feed: Galaxy 3, Transponder 4, C-band

Launch events timeline

Ground track map time

Orbit insertion graphic

Launch hazard area



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Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

Liftoff
A short video clip showing the liftoff and initial seconds of flight for the Atlas 3A rocket carrying the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite. (51sec file)
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Launch through L+5min
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket launches the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida. (5min 04sec file)
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Launch animation
Preview the launch of Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3A rocket carrying the MBSAT communications satellite with this narrated animation package. (3min 2sec file)
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MBSAT Overview
An overview of the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite being launched by the Atlas 3A rocket to serve Japan and South Korea. (5min 32sec file)
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Post-launch speeches
Senior officials with the Atlas launch and MBSAT spacecraft payload celebrate this successsful flight. (3min 38sec file)
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The Payload




The Mobile Broadcasting Satellite, or MBSAT, was built by Space Systems/Loral to beam video and music programming to portable receivers across Japan and South Korea.

Learn more



The Launcher




Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3 rocket will launch MBSAT. The American booster uses a Russian-made first stage engine.

Atlas 3 fact sheet

RD-180 engine facts

Archived Atlas coverage



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BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket with the MBSAT mobile broadcasting communications satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

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   VIDEO: ATLAS 3A ROCKET LIFTS OFF WITH MBSAT QT
   VIDEO: THE LAUNCH AS SEEN THROUGH T+5 MINUTES QT
   VIDEO: NARRATED ANIMATION OF THE LAUNCH SEQUENCE QT
   VIDEO: OVERVIEW OF MBSAT SPACECRAFT AND MISSION QT
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SATURDAY, MARCH 13, 2004

Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3 rocket put on a late-night sky show Saturday, ripping a fiery trail to space to deploy the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite that will transmit video, music and news to the palm of your hand. Read our full story.

0620 GMT (1:20 a.m. EST)

Lockheed Martin's next-to-last Atlas 3 rocket has successfully launched a satellite that will broadcast video, radio and data services to portable receivers across Japan and South Korea for mobile users on the go.

Liftoff from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida's east-central coast occurred at 12:40 a.m. EST (0540 GMT) this morning.

Powered by a Russian-made RD-180 first stage engine and a single Pratt & Whitney RL10 Centaur upper stage powerplant, the Atlas 3A rocket propelled the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit during the 29-minute flight.

Called MBSAT for short, the 9,133-pound spacecraft was built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California. It will circularize its orbit to geostationary altitude and appear fixed above 144 degrees East longitude to relay MPEG-4 video, CD-quality audio and data to mobile receivers.

According to the designers of this first Digital Multimedia Broadcasting System, programming will be transmitted up to the orbiting MBSAT and then the satellite distributes the video, radio and data offerings to its coverage zone using a large, 40-foot parabolic antenna.

With hand-held and other portable receivers, subscribers can received dozens of music channels, video selections and data-cast services while in driving in cars, riding on trains or sitting in their offices.

Ground-based signal repeaters will fill the satellite reception gaps, which can be created by large buildings blocking the space transmissions.

Mobile Broadcasting Corp. of Tokyo and SK Telecom of Seoul will operate the system.

This morning's launch marked the fifth for Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3 rocket fleet since debuting in 2000. Developed as a transitional vehicle between the older Atlas models and next-generation Atlas 5, the Atlas 3 has proved the reliability of the new Russian RD-180 engine and stretched Centaur upper stage used by the Atlas 5 family.

Now, Atlas 3 is being phased out in favor of Atlas 5. The Atlas 3 has just one additional launch scheduled for early next year carrying a classified U.S. National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite payload.

The next launch for the Atlas fleet will use the older Atlas 2AS vehicle to place the Japanese Superbird 6 communications satellite into orbit on April 15 from Cape Canaveral. That rocket is already assembled on pad 36A.

0612 GMT (1:12 a.m. EST)

Ground controllers have established contact with the Loral-built MBSAT satellite following deployment into orbit tonight.

0610 GMT (1:10 a.m. EST)

The Atlas 3A rocket has placed MBSAT into an orbit well above the contract limit. The higher orbit will allow the satellite to conserve its fuel supply.

The orbit achieved has an apogee of 19,406.8 nautical miles, a perigee of 98.9 nautical miles and inclination of 24.8 degrees.

The pre-launch target was a highly elliptical orbit with an apogee high point between 17,755 and 19,408 nautical miles, a perigee of 98 nautical miles and inclination between 23.43 and 26.6 degrees to the equator.

This is the 70th consecutive successful launch of an Atlas rocket, extending this remarkable string dating back to 1993.

0608 GMT (1:08 a.m. EST)

T+plus 28 minutes, 42 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Mobile Broadcasting Satellite, dubbed MBSAT, has been released into space following launch by the fifth Lockheed Martin Atlas 3 rocket!

0608 GMT (1:08 a.m. EST)

T+plus 28 minutes, 20 seconds. Less than a minute until spacecraft separation. Spinup of the Centaur upper stage has started in advance of MBSAT deployment.

0606 GMT (1:06 a.m. EST)

T+plus 26 minutes, 30 seconds. Centaur is now reorienting to the spacecraft deployment position. Release of MBSAT is about two-and-a-half minutes away.

0606 GMT (1:06 a.m. EST)

T+plus 26 minutes, 10 seconds. Normal engine shutdown signatures are reported.

0606 GMT (1:06 a.m. EST)

T+plus 26 minutes, 4 seconds. MECO 2. The Centaur engine has shut down, completing the powered phase of tonight's launch.

0605 GMT (1:05 a.m. EST)

T+plus 25 minutes, 30 seconds. Coming up on engine shutdown.

0604 GMT (1:04 a.m. EST)

T+plus 24 minutes, 45 seconds. Centaur engine operating parameters reported normal.

0604 GMT (1:04 a.m. EST)

T+plus 24 minutes, 5 seconds. A proper acceleration of about 1.2 g's is being experienced.

0603 GMT (1:03 a.m. EST)

T+plus 23 minutes, 5 seconds. The engine start up signatures looked good.

0602 GMT (1:02 a.m. EST)

T+plus 22 minutes, 59 seconds. The Pratt & Whitney RL10 engine of the Centaur upper stage has reignited for the burn to boost the MBSAT cargo from the current parking orbit to a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth. This will be a three-minute burn.

0602 GMT (1:02 a.m. EST)

T+plus 22 minutes, 41 seconds. The Centaur RL10 engine pre-ignition sequence has started.

0601 GMT (1:01 a.m. EST)

T+plus 21 minutes, 15 seconds. This parking orbit achieved has an apogee of 507.4 nautical miles and perigee of 89.9 nautical miles, Lockheed Martin reports.

0600 GMT (1:00 a.m. EST)

T+plus 20 minutes. Centaur system performance still looks good. Vehicle body rates are smooth.

0558 GMT (12:58 a.m. EST)

T+plus 18 minutes. Restart of the Centaur engine is about five minutes away. This upcoming three-minute firing will propel MBSAT from the current temporary low-altitude parking orbit around Earth to a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit.

0556 GMT (12:56 a.m. EST)

T+plus 16 minutes, 30 seconds. Everything has gone very well to this point in the flight, Lockheed Martin reports.

0555 GMT (12:55 a.m. EST)

T+plus 15 minutes, 40 seconds. Tank pressures are normal and battery voltages are good on the Centaur as the vehicle continues in its parking orbit coast phase.

0552 GMT (12:52 a.m. EST)

T+plus 12 minutes, 42 seconds. MECO 1. The Centaur main engine has shut down as planned following the first of two planned firings to deliver the MBSAT spacecraft into the desired orbit tonight. The vehicle will coast for about 10 minutes before the Centaur reignites to propel the satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

0552 GMT (12:52 a.m. EST)

T+plus 12 minutes, 30 seconds. Centaur has achieved orbital velocity. Coming up on engine shut down.

0551 GMT (12:51 a.m. EST)

T+plus 11 minutes, 45 seconds. Engine parameters on the RL10 powerplant remain normal with about one minute left in this first burn.

0550 GMT (12:50 a.m. EST)

T+plus 10 minutes, 50 seconds. Flight control is normal, batteries are good. The vehicle is over 1,400 miles from the Cape, traveling at 13,500 mph.

0549 GMT (12:49 a.m. EST)

T+plus 9 minutes. Speed has climbed to 12,500 mph as the vehicle remains on the correct trajectory.

0549 GMT (12:49 a.m. EST)

T+plus 9 minutes. Engine operating parameters are nominal. Vehicle rates are smooth.

0547 GMT (12:47 a.m. EST)

T+plus 7 minutes, 50 seconds. The vehicle is now 882 miles downrange at an altitude of 151 miles, traveling at 11,200 mph.

0546 GMT (12:46 a.m. EST)

T+plus 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Engine pressure and pump speed telemetry reported normal.

0546 GMT (12:46 a.m. EST)

T+plus 6 minutes, 15 seconds. The vehicle remains right on the projected track.

0545 GMT (12:45 a.m. EST)

T+plus 5 minutes, 50 seconds. The rocket is now 521 miles east of the launch pad at an altitude of 128 miles and traveling at a velocity of 10,000 miles per hour.

0544 GMT (12:44 a.m. EST)

T+plus 4 minutes, 15 seconds. The rocket is now 270 miles east of the launch pad at an altitude of 87 miles and traveling at a velocity of 9,500 miles per hour.

0544 GMT (12:44 a.m. EST)

T+plus 4 minutes. The upper stage engine is burning normally.

0543 GMT (12:43 a.m. EST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 33 seconds. The 14-foot diameter payload fairing nose cone has been jettisoned. It is no longer needed to protect the MBSAT satellite during the launch.

0543 GMT (12:43 a.m. EST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 20 seconds. The Centaur upper stage's RL10 engine has ignited!

0543 GMT (12:43 a.m. EST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 9 seconds. The Russian RD-180 main engine of the Atlas 3 rocket's first stage has shut down as planned. And the spent first stage has been jettisoned to fall into the Atlantic.

0542 GMT (12:42 a.m. EST)

T+plus 2 minutes, 20 seconds. The RD-180 engine is throttling down to hold constant acceleration at 5.3 g's.

0541 GMT (12:41 a.m. EST)

T+plus 95 seconds. The rocket is now 5 miles east of the launch pad at an altitude of 8.4 miles and traveling at a velocity of 2,000 miles per hour.

0541 GMT (12:41 a.m. EST)

T+plus 70 seconds. The RD-180 engine is throttling up to 87 percent thrust level after passing through Mach 1.

0540 GMT (12:40 a.m. EST)

T+plus 50 seconds. Smooth flight being reported for the Atlas 3 rocket.

0540 GMT (12:40 a.m. EST)

T+plus 32 seconds. The Russian-made RD-180 main engine, making its eighth flight, is easing back to two-thirds throttle as the Atlas rocket accelerates through the lower atmosphere.

0540 GMT (12:40 a.m. EST)

T+plus 10 seconds. The Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket has cleared the tower at Complex 36, and the RD-180 main engine has revved up from three-quarters throttle to 92 percent power.

0540 GMT (12:40 a.m. EST)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket launching the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite to provide a new era of multimedia services to users on the go across Japan and South Korea.

0539 GMT (12:39 a.m. EST)

T-minus 31 seconds. The launch sequence has been started!

In the next few seconds the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked and the flight data recorders will be activated.

0539 GMT (12:39 a.m. EST)

T-minus 45 seconds. Final status checks are underway to confirm the propellant and pneumatics systems on the Atlas and Centaur stages are "go" for launch.

0539 GMT (12:39 a.m. EST)

T-minus 1 minute. The fuel fill sequence for the first stage engine is reported complete and the RD-180 powerplant is being verified ready for flight. Ignition will occur at T-minus 2.73 seconds and the Russian-made engine will build up to 74 percent thrust. A check of eight engine parameters will performed by the rocket's onboard computer a half-second before liftoff. If no problems are detected, the rocket will be allowed to launch at T-0.

0538 GMT (12:38 a.m. EST)

T-minus 90 seconds. The inertial navigation unit is being "launch enabled" and the ignition enable switch is being closed.

Centaur liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanking will be secured over the next half-minute.

0538 GMT (12:38 a.m. EST)

T-minus 2 minutes. The Atlas first stage and Centaur upper stage are switching to internal power. And the Flight Termination System is arming for launch.

0537 GMT (12:37 a.m. EST)

T-minus 2 minutes, 15 seconds. The Atlas and Centaur stages are now being pressurized. Tanks are being brought to proper pressure levels for flight.

In the past few seconds, Atlas propellant topping was secured. Also, the engine preparation steps were verified complete.

0537 GMT (12:37 a.m. EST)

T-minus 3 minutes. RP-1 kerosene fuel is now flowing into the RD-180 engine of the Atlas first stage, conditioning the Russian-made powerplant for ignition.

The water system is being readied for activation at launch pad 36B. Water will flood the pad to suppress the sound produced at liftoff and protect the ground support systems.

0536 GMT (12:36 a.m. EST)

T-minus 3 minutes, 20 seconds. The Flight Termination System is switching from ground-supplied power to internal batteries.

0535 GMT (12:35 a.m. EST)

T-minus 4 minutes, 30 seconds. The pneumatics of the Centaur upper stage are being prepared.

0535 GMT (12:35 a.m. EST)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting! The Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket and MBSAT spacecraft have entered the final phase of tonight's launch countdown. Liftoff is set for 12:40 a.m. EST from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

0534 GMT (12:34 a.m. EST)

Standing by to pick up the countdown in one minute for launch of the Atlas 3A rocket designated AC-202.

The rocket stands 170 feet tall and weighs approximately 484,400 pounds at liftoff.

0532 GMT (12:32 a.m. EST)

Lockheed Martin launch director Adrian Laffitte has given his "go" to resume the countdown for an on-time liftoff tonight at 12:40 a.m. EST.

0532 GMT (12:32 a.m. EST)

From his console in the Complex 36 Blockhouse, launch conductor Ed Christiansen has polled the launch team for readiness to continue the countdown. No problems were announced!

0531 GMT (12:31 a.m. EST)

The MBSAT spacecraft payload atop the Atlas 3A rocket has switched to its internal batteries for launch.

0530 GMT (12:30 a.m. EST)

The countdown is scheduled to resume in five minutes.

0529 GMT (12:29 a.m. EST)

The fuel fill sequence to condition the Atlas 3 rocket's first stage main engine has started.

0525 GMT (12:25 a.m. EST)

Now 15 minutes from launch.

0520 GMT (12:20 a.m. EST)

The Complex 36 Blockhouse escape tunnel doors are now being sealed.

0520 GMT (12:20 a.m. EST)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the final scheduled hold in tonight's launch operation. The pause is scheduled to last 15 minutes. During this time, the launch team will verify all systems are ready for flight. Management will conduct a series of polls before giving final approval to continue with the countdown.

Liftoff remains targeted for 12:40 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

0515 GMT (12:15 a.m. EST)

All technical aspects of the countdown along with the weather remain "go" for flight.

0510 GMT (12:10 a.m. EST)

Now 30 minutes from blastoff.

Here is a look at some statistics for tonight's mission:

  • This will be the 581st flight of an Atlas booster since 1957
  • The 170th launch of a Centaur upper stage (including Atlas and Titan)
  • Centaur's 147th flight on Atlas
  • Fifth flight for the Atlas 3-series of rockets since debuting in 2000
  • Second time an Atlas 3A vehicle configuration has flown
  • Eighth flight of the Russian-made RD-180 main engine (used by Atlas 3 and Atlas 5)
  • The second Atlas launch in 2004
  • If all goes well, this will extend the string of consecutive successful Atlas launches to 70 dating back to 1993

0505 GMT (12:05 a.m. EST)

T-minus 20 minutes and counting. Countdown clocks are ticking down to the T-minus 5 minute mark where a 15-minute hold will occur. Liftoff still set for 12:40 a.m. EST.

0459 GMT (11:59 p.m. EST)

The Atlas first stage liquid oxygen tank is now reported at flight level. The Centaur upper stage liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks reached flight level earlier, meaning the rocket is now fully fueled for launch.

But given the cryogenic nature of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen loaded into the rocket tonight, the supplies naturally boil away and the propellants have to be replenished during the countdown.

0455 GMT (11:55 p.m. EST)

Now 45 minutes away from liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

0454 GMT (11:54 p.m. EST)

The Atlas first stage liquid oxygen topping to flight level is starting.

0453 GMT (11:53 p.m. EST)

An inhibited self test of the rocket's Flight Termination System is beginning. The FTS would be used to destroy the vehicle in the event of a malfunction during launch.

0451 GMT (11:51 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank is now reported at flight level.

0443 GMT (11:43 p.m. EST)

The liquid hydrogen tank inside the Centaur upper stage is now 97 percent full, heading to flight level.

0441 GMT (11:41 p.m. EST)

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank has reached the 98 percent level where it is being maintained. Topping to 100 percent will be completed shortly.

Meanwhile, the Centaur hydrogen tank has passed the 90 percent mark.

0440 GMT (11:40 p.m. EST)

Launch of the Atlas 3A rocket is now 60 minutes away. The countdown is going very well. The launch team remains active with loading the Atlas liquid oxygen and Centaur liquid hydrogen tanks. The Centaur oxygen tank was filled earlier in the count.

0436 GMT (11:36 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank is half full.

0435 GMT (11:35 p.m. EST)

The Centaur engine gaseous helium chilldown has started.

0430 GMT (11:30 p.m. EST)

Filling of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A launcher with super-cold rocket fuel continues at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's pad 36B on Florida's east-central coast tonight. Liftoff remains scheduled for 12:40 a.m. EST.

The liquid oxygen tank in the Atlas first stage is now 70 percent full; the Centaur liquid hydrogen tank has reached the 10 percent mark; and the Centaur liquid oxygen tank has achieved flight level.

0426 GMT (11:26 p.m. EST)

The liquid hydrogen chilldown is now complete and the "go" has been given to load the super-chilled fuel into the Centaur upper stage. The cryogenic propellant will be consumed with liquid oxygen by the stage's Pratt & Whitney-made RL10 engine to propel the MBSAT spacecraft into the targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit tonight.

0425 GMT (11:25 p.m. EST)

The first stage liquid oxygen tank is now half full.

0420 GMT (11:20 p.m. EST)

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank is now 20 percent full. The rocket's shiny metallic first stage is turning an icy white as the super-cold liquid oxygen continues to flow into the vehicle.

0417 GMT (11:17 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank, which was loaded over the past half-hour, is now being topped to flight level.

0411 GMT (11:11 p.m. EST)

The "go" has been given to commence loading of the Atlas first stage liquid oxygen tank.

0410 GMT (11:10 p.m. EST)

Launch of the Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral is now 90 minutes away. Lockheed Martin is not reporting any technical problems tonight, the weather is ideal and the countdown is proceeding smoothly.

0409 GMT (11:09 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has reached the 95 percent level where it is being secured. Topping to 100 percent will be completed shortly. As the countdown progresses, the tank will be replenished to replace the cryogenic liquid oxygen that naturally boils away.

0404 GMT (11:04 p.m. EST)

The chilldown conditioning of liquid hydrogen propellant lines at pad 36B is now starting to prepare the plumbing for transferring the Minus-423 degree F fuel into the rocket.

Also at this time the door of the Complex 36 Blockhouse is being sealed, protecting the 120-member launch team. The Blockhouse is located about 1,400 feet away from the Atlas 3 rocket at pad 36B, and serves as the control center during the countdown to launch.

Loading of the Centaur liquid oxygen tank continues. The tank has reached the 65 percent mark.

0402 GMT (11:02 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is now half full.

0359 GMT (10:59 p.m. EST)

The final alignment of the Atlas rocket's inertial navigation guidance computer has been completed. The flight control system final preps have begun.

0356 GMT (10:56 p.m. EST)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has reached the 10 percent level as fueling operations get underway for tonight's 12:40 a.m. EST launch of the commercial Atlas 3A rocket.

0352 GMT (10:52 p.m. EST)

The chilldown conditioning of the liquid oxygen transfer lines at pad 36B is complete, and the "go" has now been given to start filling the Centaur upper stage with its its supply of super-cold cryogenic oxidizer.

The liquid oxygen -- chilled to Minus-298 degrees F -- will be consumed during the launch by the Centaur's single RL10 engine along with liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the stage a little later in the countdown.

0341 GMT (10:41 p.m. EST)

Safety officials have confirmed that the danger area around the launch pad is cleared of all personnel. With that verification, the launch conductor has given approval to start the "chilldown" procedure for thermal conditioning of liquid oxygen fuel lines at pad 36B in advance of loading the Centaur upper stage.

0340 GMT (10:40 p.m. EST)

T-minus 105 minutes and counting. After the planned half-hour pause in the countdown, clocks are ticking again.

The countdown will continue to T-minus 5 minutes where a planned 15-minute built-in hold is scheduled. Launch of the Atlas 3A rocket with the MBSAT mobile communications satellite to serve Japan and South Korea remains targeted to occur two hours from now at 12:40 a.m. EST.

0336 GMT (10:36 p.m. EST)

The launch team members have been individually polled by launch conductor Ed Christiansen to verify their readiness for the upcoming fueling operations when cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants are loaded into the Atlas first stage and Centaur upper stage. No constraints were reported. Launch director Adrian Laffitte then gave a "ready" status.

At launch pad 36B, workers have finished work following mobile service tower rollback. The launch conductor has instructed them to clear the area.

0330 GMT (10:30 p.m. EST)

Ten minutes are remaining in this hold at T-minus 105 minutes. Coming up in about five minutes, a readiness check of the launch team will be performed by Lockheed Martin launch conductor Ed Christiansen in preparation for fueling the rocket.

0325 GMT (10:25 p.m. EST)

Now halfway through this planned hold in the countdown. The final securing of the launch complex is being performed before all workers clear the pad. The hazardous operation of pumping cryogenic propellants into the vehicle will begin after the countdown resumes.

0310 GMT (10:10 p.m. EST)

T-minus 105 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered a planned 30-minute built-in hold for tonight's launch of the Atlas 3A rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The count has 45 minutes of hold time scheduled over the course the evening that will lead to liftoff at 12:40 a.m. EST (0540 GMT). A second and final hold is planned at T-minus 5 minutes for 15 minutes.

The holds are designed to give the launch team an opportunity to work any problems that could arise without impacting the overall countdown timeline. But Lockheed Martin is not reporting any technical issues at this point as the count rolls along smoothly tonight.

To recap, the countdown began at 3:50 p.m. EST Friday afternoon as scheduled. Workers spent the following hours powering up the rocket, performing routine pre-flight tests and configuring the launch pad. The mobile service tower was rolled back in the past half-hour. Activities are now focusing on loading the Atlas 3A vehicle with super-cold rocket fuel beginning just before 11 p.m. EST.

The weather is perfect tonight with forecasters predicting a zero percent chance of conditions prohibiting liftoff.

The Air Force has announced there is one Collision Avoidance period, or COLA, that will prohibit liftoff for a few minutes during tonight's launch window. The COLA extends from 1:05:56 to 1:11:37 a.m. EST.

The launch window opens at 12:40 a.m. and runs 90 minutes to 2:10 a.m. EST.

COLA cutouts occur to ensure the rocket isn't launched on a course that would take it too close to an object already orbiting in space.

0305 GMT (10:05 p.m. EST)

The navigation test on the rocket's Inertial Navigation Unit guidance computer has been completed. The INU final alignment is now starting.

Also, the hazard area roadblocks are being established at the Cape.

The countdown clocks will be entering a planned hold in about five minutes. Launch is still set for 12:40 a.m. EST.

0247 GMT (9:47 p.m. EST)

After slowly pulling away from the rocket, the mobile service tower is now clear of the Atlas 3 vehicle and accelerating its drive to the parking location a couple hundred feet from the pad for tonight's launch.

About two minutes ago, the launch team began a test of the C-band system. The rocket's C-band beacon is used to track the rocket during flight.

0240 GMT (9:40 p.m. EST)

Retraction of the mobile service tower is beginning right on schedule. The structure, which wraps around the 170-foot tall Atlas 3 rocket during its pre-launch assembly and checkout, is now being rolled away to the launch position at pad 36B as the countdown enters the final three hours.

Also at this point in the count, environmental control system final preps and the hazardous gas detection monitoring system are starting.

0228 GMT (9:28 p.m. EST)

Launch conductor Ed Christiansen has just polled the various launch team members and launch director Adrian Laffitte to confirm everyone is "ready" for mobile service tower rollback. No problems were reported. The retraction is slated to begin at 9:40 p.m.

0225 GMT (9:25 p.m. EST)

T-minus 150 minutes and counting. The entire launch team has been instructed to "man stations for Integrated Launch Operations."

The countdown is being controlled from the Complex 36 Blockhouse where Lockheed Martin Launch Conductor Ed Christiansen is orchestrating the 120-member launch team during the activities leading up to liftoff of this Atlas 3A rocket.

The senior management team and Lockheed Martin Launch Director Adrian Laffitte are housed in the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC) on the northern end of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The countdown is on schedule and free of any significant technical problems. There are two holds, lasting for a total of 45 minutes, built into the countdown at T-minus 105 minutes and T-minus 5 minutes. Liftoff is still targeted for 12:40 a.m. EST tonight.

0140 GMT (8:40 p.m. EST)

Pre-launch activities appear to be progressing very well tonight as the countdown enters the final four hours. The launch team is stepping through the checklists, performing the methodical sequence of tests and chores to ready for liftoff.

In about an hour, the mobile service tower will be rolled away from the Atlas rocket. Fueling of the vehicle will start just before 11 p.m.

Launch remains scheduled to occur on time at 12:40 a.m. EST.

FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 2004
2330 GMT (6:30 p.m. EST)


The sun is setting and the launch pad flood lights are switching on as the countdown continues for tonight's blastoff of the Atlas 3 rocket. Weather conditions are ideal, albeit a bit chilly for spectators. We will begin live play-by-play updates on the countdown and launch around 9:15 p.m.

1815 GMT (1:15 p.m. EST)

The countdown clocks at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 36 will begin ticking at 3:50 p.m. EST for tonight's launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket carrying the Mobile Broadcasting Satellite (MBSAT) to provide video, audio and data services across Japan and South Korea. Launch is slated to occur at 12:40 a.m. EST (0540 GMT), the opening of a 90-minute window.

Throughout the evening the crews in the Complex 36 blockhouse and at pad 36B will proceed through their standard countdown chores needed to ready the Atlas booster and its single-engine Centaur upper stage for launch, as well as the ground systems and MBSAT spacecraft.

Highlights of activities planned, in the order they are scheduled to be performed, include Centaur propulsion launch preps, powering up the rocket's flight control system, Atlas propulsion and hydraulic systems preps, launch pad umbilical tower and mobile service structure preps, performing the flight control operational test, the internal power test of Atlas/Centaur, performing a navigation test of rocket's guidance computer, starting Centaur helium purges and starting liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen system final preps.

The Integrated Launch Operations -- the final portion of the countdown in which all members of the launch team participate -- will start at 9:25 p.m. EST (0225 GMT). Retraction of the mobile service tower from around the rocket is slated for 9:40 p.m. EST.

Countdown clocks will enter a planned 30-minute hold at the T-minus 105 minute mark starting at 10:10 p.m. During this time the launch team will have a chance to catch up on any work that could be running behind schedule.

Fueling operations will commence at 10:54 p.m. with super-cold liquid oxygen flowing into the Centaur upper stage. Loading of liquid oxygen into the Atlas booster stage should start at 11:15 p.m. The final segment of fueling will begin at 11:31 p.m. when liquid hydrogen is pumped into the Centaur. The Atlas stage was previously fueled with its supply of RP-1 kerosene propellant.

A final planned hold is scheduled at T-minus 5 minutes for 15 minutes in duration starting at 12:20 a.m. If there are no problems standing in the way of liftoff, the countdown will resume at 12:35 a.m. for an on-time launch.

1600 GMT (11:00 a.m. EST)

Weather forecasters continue to predict perfect conditions for tonight's launch of the Atlas 3A rocket from Cape Canaveral. See today's updated forecast here.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

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