Follow the preparations and launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Rainbow 1 communications satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

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FRIDAY, JULY 18, 2003
1900 GMT (3:00 p.m. EDT)

The solid rocket booster retrieval effort has been concluded. The searchers found some pieces and fragments from the Atlas 5 boosters but not the nozzles that engineers wanted. The odds of recovering the nozzles for post-flight inspections were extremely remote anyway.

FRIDAY, JULY 18, 2003

The largest and most powerful Atlas rocket in history rushed off its Cape Canaveral pad on a river of golden flame Thursday evening to expand Lockheed Martin's launcher family. Read our full launch story.

0245 GMT (10:45 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

Ground controllers have established communications with the newly-launched Rainbow 1 spacecraft. All indications point to a healthy satellite, Lockheed Martin said.

0133 GMT (9:33 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

The space shuttle solid rocket booster retrieval team in the Atlantic Ocean has found a nose cone from one of the Atlas 5's solid motors. The search has been ended for tonight due to darkness. It will resume in the morning, Lockheed Martin says.

Lockheed Martin arranged a deal with United Space Alliance and NASA to dispatch the Liberty Star shuttle SRB recovery ship to retrieve the Atlas solids.

Made by Aerojet, these Atlas 5 boosters were making their inaugural launch tonight. Engineers wanted to recover the boosters for post-flight inspections, specifically the nozzles. However, the boosters weren't designed to be recovered. So, the odds of a success catch are remote.

0127 GMT (9:27 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

Preliminary data shows the Atlas 5 rocket deployed Rainbow 1 into a highly accurate orbit. The apogee is within one kilometer of the 35,845 km target, perigee is 3,790 km and inclination is 17.5 degrees.

This completes the third flight of Lockheed Martin's next-generation Atlas 5 rocket, all of which have been successful. It also extends the string of successful missions by the Atlas family to 66 dating back to 1993.

0125 GMT (9:25 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 100 minutes, 26 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Rainbow 1 direct-to-home television broadcast satellite has been released into Earth orbit from the Centaur!

Built by Lockheed Martin for Cablevision, Rainbow 1 will be used to create a new satellite-based TV service for subscribers across the United States. From its orbital location at 61.5 degrees West longitude in geostationary orbit, the craft will cover 80-to-90 percent of the country.

The Rainbow service is expected to begin October 1, competing against DirecTV and EchoStar systems.

0123 GMT (9:23 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 98 minutes, 15 seconds. The Centaur is in its reorientation maneuver to prepare for releasing the payload. The engine cutoff was within one-second of prediction.

0122 GMT (9:22 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 97 minutes, 37 seconds. The Centaur's Pratt & Whitney RL10 engine has shut down to complete its second of two firings this evening to launch Rainbow 1.

0121 GMT (9:21 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 96 minutes, 45 seconds. About one minute left to go in this burn. Engine cutoff will be a guidance-commanded event. The engine continues to perform normally.

0120 GMT (9:20 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 95 minutes, 45 seconds. The upper stage continues to fire. This is a four-minute burn to boost Rainbow 1 spacecraft from the current parking orbit to a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth.

0120 GMT (9:20 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 95 minutes. Engine operating parameters are within expected range.

0119 GMT (9:19 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 94 minutes, 45 seconds. A normal burn of Centaur is being reported.

0118 GMT (9:18 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 93 minutes, 45 seconds. Centaur is firing again! The RL10 engine has reignited to resume the powered phase of launch.

0115 GMT (9:15 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 90 minutes. About three-and-a-half minutes from the second burn by Centaur this evening. Deployment of Rainbow to complete the launch is 10 minutes away.

0105 GMT (9:05 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 80 minutes. The Centaur is now passing off the northeastern coast of Australia as it continues in the quiet coast. Engine restart is less than 15 minutes away.

0050 GMT (8:50 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 65 minutes. Telemetry being received from the Centaur upper stage continues to indicate all systems are healthy during the coast.

0038 GMT (8:38 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 53 minutes. We have posted a five-minute, 42-second movie of this evening's launch as seen live. It includes stunning onboard camera views of solid rocket booster separation, jettison of the fairing and load-support ring, separation between the Atlas first stage and Centaur upper stage, and even a upward-facing view from the spent first stage looking at the RL10 engine firing as Centaur blasts into space.

The clip is available to our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers. More information about the service and how to subscribe is available here.

0035 GMT (8:35 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 50 minutes. Lockheed Martin officials say the first stage performance was "better than better" this evening. Currently, the Centaur remains in good shape as the coast continues.

0030 GMT (8:30 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 45 minutes. The solid rocket booster retrieval team deployed in the Atlantic Ocean to attempt recovery of the Atlas 5's new Aerojet-made motors is headed for the suspected impact area. A large object has been spotted in the water by aircraft. However, officials can't yet verify it is one of the boosters.

0025 GMT (8:25 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 40 minutes. Less than an hour remains in this coast for the Centaur. The Pratt & Whitney RL10 engine will be restarted at approximately T+plus 93 minutes, 28 seconds for a four-minute, 10-second burn to propel Rainbow 1 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Deployment of the spacecraft to conclude this evening's launch is expected at about T+plus 100 minutes, 27 seconds.

0010 GMT (8:10 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 25 minutes. The vehicle continues in the quiet coast phase of flight in the parking orbit around Earth.

0004 GMT (8:04 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 19 minutes. To see the rocket's ground track this evening, you can view a map here.

0002 GMT (8:02 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 17 minutes, 30 seconds. The parking orbit achieved is right on the mark, Lockheed Martin reports. The apogee is 4166 km, the perigee is 167 km and the inclination is 27.1 degrees to the Equator.

0000 GMT (8:00 p.m. EDT Thurs.)

T+plus 15 minutes, 42 seconds. MECO 1. The Centaur main engine has cut off as planned following the first of two planned firings to propel the Rainbow 1 direct-to-home TV satellite into the targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit. The vehicle will coast for more than an hour before the Centaur reignites at T+plus 1 hour, 33 minutes, 28 seconds.

2359 GMT (7:59 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 14 minutes, 35 seconds. About one minute remaining in this first firing by the Centaur upper stage this evening.

2358 GMT (7:58 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 13 minutes, 15 seconds. RL10 engine parameters still reported normal.

2357 GMT (7:57 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 12 minutes, 40 seconds. The rocket is now 2,100 miles from the launch pad, traveling at over 16,000 mph.

2356 GMT (7:56 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 11 minutes, 45 seconds. Vehicle rates look normal. Tank pressures are stable. Battery voltages are normal.

2355 GMT (7:55 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 minutes. Centaur is still thrusting away as the vehicle and its Rainbow 1 cargo head for a parking orbit around Earth.

2354 GMT (7:54 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 9 minutes. This first burn of the Centaur upper stage will continue until approximately T+plus 15 minutes, 38 seconds.

2353 GMT (7:53 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 8 minutes, 15 seconds. The rocket remains right on course with no problems reported.

2352 GMT (7:52 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 7 minutes. Centaur's single engine continues to fire. Engine parameters all reported normal.

2350 GMT (7:50 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes, 50 seconds. Altitude 118 miles, downrange distance 554 miles, velocity 12,400 mph.

2350 GMT (7:50 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes. Centaur's RL10 main engine has ignited!

2349 GMT (7:49 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds. Main engine cutoff confirmed. And the spent first stage has separated.

2349 GMT (7:49 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes. The new five-meter Atlas 5 payload fairing has been jettisoned! Also, the load-support ring on the Centaur has separated, too. Both the fairing and ring are built by Contraves Space.

2348 GMT (7:48 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes. The Atlas 5 continues powering to space on the Russian-made RD-180 first stage main engine. A good flight being reported by Lockheed Martin.

2347 GMT (7:47 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Both solid rocket boosters have been jettisoned from the Atlas 5! The Aerojet-made boosters have made their first flight with apparent success.

2346 GMT (7:46 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 95 seconds. The solid boosters have burned out as planned. They will separate from the rocket at T+plus 2 minutes, 6 seconds when the Atlas 5 reaches a low dynamic pressure region of flight.

2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 45 seconds. The RD-180 engine has throttled down to 72 percent during passage through maximum dynamic pressure. The engine will throttle back up shortly.

2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 35 seconds. The twin solid rocket boosters have reached peak pressure. Both are firing normally.

2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 25 seconds. The rocket's combined roll, pitch and yaw programs are positioning the rocket on the proper heading. The vehicle is flying away from the Florida coast on a 86.07-degree flight azimuth.

2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 seconds. The Atlas 5 500-series rocket has cleared the launch pad's lightning protection towers as it accelerates away from Earth at roughly twice the speed as the previous two Atlas 5 400-series vehicles.

2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of Atlas 5 -- taking the next step in the rocket family's evolution with the 500 series -- and Rainbow 1 to launch a new direct-to-home TV service for America.

2344 GMT (7:44 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. "Go Atlas" "Go Centaur" "Go Atlas 5" called by launch team.

2343 GMT (7:43 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 90 seconds. Launch control system is enabled. The Flight Termination System has been armed.

2343 GMT (7:43 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. The Atlas first stage and Centaur upper stage are now switching to internal power. Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen topping for Centaur will be stopped in 10 seconds.

2342 GMT (7:42 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes, 30 seconds. The Flight Termination System has switched to internal power.

2342 GMT (7:42 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. The Atlas first stage liquid oxygen replenishment is being secured so the tank can be pressurized for flight. Also, the RP-1 tank is being pressurized to flight level.

2341 GMT (7:41 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and counting. The final countdown is now underway for the launch of Atlas 5 and Rainbow 1! The automatic computer sequencer is in control of all the critical events through liftoff.

2339 GMT (7:39 p.m. EDT)

Everyone has now reported a "go" status for flight. Launch Director Adrian Laffitte has also given his "go" to continue the countdown in about 2 minutes.

2338 GMT (7:38 p.m. EDT)

The launch team has been polled by Launch Conductor Mike Jacobs from the Atlas 5 Spaceflight Operations Center.

2337 GMT (7:37 p.m. EDT)

The fuel-fill sequence has been completed.

2333 GMT (7:33 p.m. EDT)

The entire launch team will be polled in five minutes to verify readiness to resume the countdown for liftoff at 7:45 p.m. EDT. There are currently no problems being reported.

2331 GMT (7:31 p.m. EDT)

Rainbow 1 is running on internal power.

2331 GMT (7:31 p.m. EDT)

The solid rocket booster ignition safe and arm switch is being put in the "enable" position.

2330 GMT (7:30 p.m. EDT)

The Rainbow 1 direct-to-home TV broadcasting spacecraft sitting atop the Atlas 5 rocket is now switching from ground-fed power to internal batteries for flight.

2328 GMT (7:28 p.m. EDT)

The fuel-fill sequence is now beginning for the Russian-made RD-180 main engine, which powers the Atlas rocket during its first four-and-a-half minutes of flight.

All technical issues have been resolved and the weather conditions are reported acceptable by the Air Force. Launch time is 7:45 p.m. EDT.

2325 GMT (7:25 p.m. EDT)

The anomaly resolution team reports that the Centaur liquid oxygen fill and drain valve passed its tests and is operating with sufficient margin.

2322 GMT (7:22 p.m. EDT)

Engineers have concluded the first stage helium leak is extremely small and no longer concern for flight. The Centaur liquid oxygen fill and drain valve situation remains under discussion.

2318 GMT (7:18 p.m. EDT)

Weather is now "go" for launch, the Air Force says. Forecasters expect the conditions to remain favorable for the next hour or so. Liftoff has been rescheduled for 7:45 p.m. EDT.

2317 GMT (7:17 p.m. EDT)

It appears the first stage helium system problem has been resolved. This was a slight leak during pressurization of the Atlas 5's first stage helium bottle, a Lockheed Martin spokesman said. Meanwhile, the Centaur liquid oxygen fill and drain valve is being cycle-tested.

2309 GMT (7:09 p.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME. Lockheed Martin is shooting for 7:45 p.m. EDT for launch of the Atlas 5 rocket carrying Rainbow 1. The available launch window extends to 9:00 p.m.

2306 GMT (7:06 p.m. EDT)

A new launch time has not been established. But liftoff has been delayed beyond the targeted 7:20 p.m. EDT opening of this evening's window.

2306 GMT (7:06 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered this final planned hold. The pause was scheduled to last 10 minutes. However, officials are going to extend the hold while the technical issues are sorted out and weather conditions in the local area improve.

Meanwhile, the team is preparing to run a special test on that liquid oxygen fill and drain valve that didn't appear to be operating correctly earlier.

2304 GMT (7:04 p.m. EDT)

The weather team is expecting the anvil clouds to move out of the area in the next half-hour or so. Meanwhile, engineers are still trying to isolate a suspected first stage helium system leak. A Lockheed Martin spokesman says it is not clear if the problem is on the rocket-side or with ground support equipment.

2300 GMT (7:00 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. Coming up on the built-in hold at T-minus 4 minutes.

2258 GMT (6:58 p.m. EDT)

Lockheed Martin has just announced that weather conditions are currently "no go" due to anvil clouds that are too close to the launch pad.

2256 GMT (6:56 p.m. EDT)

The anomaly resolution team is now discussing a liquid oxygen fill and drain valve problem. Meanwhile, engineers are still looking at the helium system for the first stage due to a possible leak concern.

2253 GMT (6:53 p.m. EDT)

The fuel-fill sequence for the first stage main engine, scheduled to begin in a few minutes, is being delayed.

2246 GMT (6:46 p.m. EDT)

Countdown clocks are heading to the T-minus 4 minute mark where a planned 10-minute hold will begin at 7:06 p.m. EDT. Liftoff still set for 7:20 p.m. EDT (2320 GMT).

The flight control system final preps for launch have been completed.

2235 GMT (6:35 p.m. EDT)

Air Force weather officials have improved the odds of acceptable conditions. The forecast now calls for an 80 percent chance of meeting the launch weather rules during this evening's 7:20 to 9 p.m. EDT launch window.

2234 GMT (6:34 p.m. EDT)

The fast-fill loading of the first stage liquid oxygen tank has been completed to 96 percent. Topping off of the tank is now starting.

2229 GMT (6:29 p.m. EDT)

Meanwhile, the launch team is studying some system readings that could indicate a leak. It is not clear what, if any, impact this will have on the countdown, a spokesperson said.

2227 GMT (6:27 p.m. EDT)

The liquid hydrogen tank in the Centaur upper stage has just reached 97 percent full. Topping is now beginning.

2226 GMT (6:26 p.m. EDT)

First stage liquid oxygen has reached 80 percent.

2223 GMT (6:23 p.m. EDT)

Centaur liquid hydrogen tank is now at 80 percent.

2220 GMT (6:20 p.m. EDT)

Launch of Atlas 5 and Rainbow 1 is now one hour away. Fueling operations are continuing at the launch pad as the Lockheed Martin rocket is readied for its 7:20 p.m. EDT blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Atlas 5 will need an hour and 40 minutes to deliver the direct-to-home TV broadcasting spacecraft into the proper orbit.

2217 GMT (6:17 p.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank has reached 30 percent.

2216 GMT (6:16 p.m. EDT)

Atlas first stage liquid oxygen has hit the 60 percent mark.

Meanwhile, the flight control final preparations are starting.

2212 GMT (6:12 p.m. EDT)

The Centaur engine chilldown has been initiated.

2210 GMT (6:10 p.m. EDT)

The liquid hydrogen chilldown is now complete and the super-cold fuel is flowing to fill 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 Rainbow spacecraft into the targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit this evening.

2203 GMT (6:03 p.m. EDT)

First stage liquid oxygen tank is now 30 percent full.

Chilled to Minus-298 degrees F, the liquid oxygen will be used with RP-1 kerosene by the RD-180 main engine on the first stage during the initial four-and-a-half minutes of flight today.

2202 GMT (6:02 p.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid oyxgen tank has reached flight level.

2156 GMT (5:56 p.m. EDT)

A layer of ice is slowly beginning to form on the liquid oxygen section of the Atlas 5 first stage as the cryogenic oxidizer continues to flow into the stage. The tank is now 10 percent full.

2150 GMT (5:50 p.m. EDT)

Launch is just 90 minutes away.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

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A camera aboard the Atlas 5 captures this stunning view as one of the Aerojet solid rocket boosters separates. Photo: ILS/Spaceflight Now

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 5 (AV-003)
Payload: Rainbow 1
Launch date: July 17, 2003
Launch window: 7:20-9:00 p.m. EDT (2320-0100 GMT)
Launch site: Complex 41, Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida
Satellite broadcast: AMC 1, Transponder 17, C-band

Pre-launch briefing
Mission preview - Our story examining the new 500-series version of Atlas 5.

SRB retrieval - Our story looking at the plan to recover the Atlas 5's solid rocket boosters.

Onboard cameras - A preview of what three video cameras on the rocket should see.

Weather forecast - The latest forecast for launch day conditions.

Launch hazard area - A map of the restricted area during liftoff.

Ground track - See the trajectory the rocket will follow during its flight.

Orbit insertion - Illustration of Hellas Sat's trek to geostationary orbit.

Complex 41 - A tour of the Atlas 5 launch site and description of the "clean pad" concept.

Atlas index - A directory of our previous Atlas launch coverage.

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