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The Mission




Rocket: Delta 2 (7420)
Payload: GeoEye 1
Date: Sept. 6, 2008
Window: 11:50:57 a.m. PDT (2:50:57 p.m. EDT)
Site: SLC-2W, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

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BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the Delta 2 rocket with GeoEye 1 commercial Earth-imaging spacecraft. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2008

A Delta 2 rocket thundered out of America's western spaceport Saturday and put into orbit a commercial Earth-imaging satellite that promises to offer a sharper clarity than any private satellite launched before it.

The 12-story booster lifted off at 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT), punching through a layer of coastal fog before ascending into clear blue skies at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (See photo gallery)

An hour later over Africa, the GeoEye 1 spacecraft was successfully deployed from the rocket to begin its mission as the world's highest-resolution commercial eye-in-the-sky, capable of seeing home plate of a baseball diamond from 400 miles up in space while traveling 17,000 miles per hour.

"We are really in an age of transparency with these satellites. We're providing customers with views of the Earth that they were never able to get before," said Mark Brender, GeoEye's vice president of communications and marketing. "This technology that was once only in the hands of people with security clearances is migrating from the world of intelligence to the world of commerce."

Everyone from Google Earth users to U.S. national security analysts will benefit from the GeoEye 1 satellite when it becomes operational in about six weeks. It is expected to produce images with a resolution of 0.41 meters or 16 inches for black and white imagery and 1.65 meters for color imagery.

"GeoEye 1 will be a voracious collector and we'll be able to collect large areas because the primary reason we exist is for mapping," Brender said.

"In the panchromatic mode of the satellite, if we were just imaging in the black and white, we should be able at maximum output to collect about 700,000 square kilometers a day. That's about the size of Texas. In the multispectral mode, if we're just imaging in color, we'll be able to collect half that, about 350,000 square kilometers a day. That's about the size of New Mexico."

A chief customer of GeoEye 1's imagery will be the U.S. government. A $500 million contract from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency helped finance construction and launch of the sophisticated satellite under the NextView program.

"Because the NGA is a top-tier customer, because they have paid for half the development of the satellite, they will get priority tasking. So they will inform us of what areas of the world they want imagery of and we'll go out and collect it," Brender said.

"They are a great customer and have a great appetite for high-resolution commercial imagery and we will shoot any place on the world that they need to have accurate information over. All that imagery that is collected will then be put into our commercial archive."

Unlike U.S. spy satellites that gather classified imagery of the planet, the data from privately-run spacecraft like GeoEye 1 isn't top-secret.

"Commercial satellite imagery is unclassified. So the U.S. government can easily share it with allies and coalition partners. You don't have to worry if you are out in the field and you're a military person and you want to show a colleague from another country satellite imagery. You don't have to worry if that person has a security clearance or not, or what level," Brender said.

The NGA awarded contracts to rival satellite operators DigitalGlobe and GeoEye. The WorldView 1 satellite was put in service a year ago by DigitalGlobe, also launching aboard a Delta rocket from Vandenberg, and now GeoEye has its advanced spacecraft circling the globe today.

"We're doing it on-budget without any cost overruns. You don't hear those terms very often when talking about government programs," Brender said of the $502 million GeoEye 1 satellite project.

"So the NextView contract that we and DigitalGlobe both got from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency...has been a good example of a successful public-private partnership and bringing to our defense and intelligence customers high-resolution, unclassified commercial satellite imagery."

Another user of GeoeEye 1 will be Google.

"We will provide satellite imagery to Google Earth and Google Maps from GeoEye 1. We have an exclusive agreement...and we will not be selling GeoEye 1 imagery to the other online mapping search sites," Brender said.

Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, the GeoEye company was created in early 2006 by merging satellite operators Space Imaging and OrbView. The new GeoEye 1 satellite joins the company's Ikonos spacecraft deployed from Vandenberg in 1999.

"GeoEye 1 will effectively take over from Ikonos when GeoEye 1 becomes operational. However, Ikonos is operating fine and we expect it to continue to operate for the foreseeable future. So we will have a constellation of two high-resolution Earth-imaging satellites that can meet the demanding demands of customers," Brender said.

"We'll be able to offer customers continuity of imagery. And many customers don't necessarily need half-meter ground resolution imagery (from GeoEye 1). For example, if you are an oil company and you are creating image maps of an area you want to explore in Libya or Siberia, you don't need half-meter ground resolution. One-meter ground resolution from Ikonos would be fine. In fact, Ikonos archive imagery would be fine because the ground doesn't change much. We have 300 million square kilometers of Ikonos imagery in our archive as of this month. That is perfectly fine for many customers. Other customers might want the high-resolution and the metric accuracy that GeoEye 1 will provide because they are doing more precise mapping."

Other GeoEye 1 customers are expected to include state and local governments for planning and zoning, environmental monitoring, air and marine transportation, agriculture and insurance firms looking at risk management.

"So there are many industries that could use this technology. And as the resolution gets better and better, there's more knowledge and more utility in the imagery," Brender said.

United Launch Alliance conducted Saturday's the rocket flight while Boeing managed the commercial contract for the GeoEye satellite customer. ULA was formed in December 2006 to merge Boeing's Delta and Lockheed Martin's Atlas rocket families under one joint venture to cut the cost for U.S. government space launches. The parent companies have retained the ability to sell the rockets on the commercial marketplace.

"This launch signifies Boeing's continued commitment to provide our commercial customers with the Delta 2 vehicle, which has a 98.5 percent launch success rate," said Ken Heinly, Boeing Launch Services president.

It was the fourth such commercial Delta 2 rocket launch under the ULA and Boeing arrangement, following a pair of Italian radar imaging satellite missions and DigitalGlobe's WorldView 1 spacecraft. A third Italian COSMO-SkyMed craft is slated to launch in about six weeks and the WorldView 2 will ride a Delta 2 rocket next year.

The Delta 2 vehicle has a string of 83 consecutive successful launches dating back to May 1997 and an overall history of 136 successes in 138 flights.

"It's like when people want as close as you can get to a sure thing, they call us up," Heinly said.

2155 GMT (5:55 p.m. EDT; 2:55 p.m. PDT)

Here's a collection of notes and quotes from post-launch press releases issued this afternoon:

From GeoEye:

GeoEye's ground station in Norway relayed the downlink signal it received from GeoEye 1 confirming that the satellite successfully separated from the second stage of the launch vehicle and began automatically initializing its onboard systems.

Bill Schuster, GeoEye chief operating officer, said, "Based upon the data we saw, the satellite is performing properly and ready to begin the next phase towards meeting its mission requirements." GeoEye 1 will now undergo a calibration and check-out period before imagery products will be available for sale.

Matthew O'Connell, GeoEye chief executive officer, said, "Later this fall, we will start providing high-resolution color imagery of the Earth from our newest satellite to customers around the globe. The imagery from GeoEye 1 adds to the quantity and quality of that currently provided by our IKONOS satellite, and together this magnificent constellation will enable us to meet world-wide customer demand."

O'Connell added, "This launch, and our important relationship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), shows how public-private partnerships can be successful for the collection of broad areas of the Earth. And all our customers can be assured of continued access to quality products and first-class customer service."

From satellite builder General Dynamics:

"GeoEye 1 is a highly sophisticated imaging satellite that was delivered on an unprecedented schedule and continues our successful track record in the production of high performance satellites," said Dave Shingledecker, vice president and general manager of integrated space systems for General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems. "We look forward to bringing this strong product offering to various government customers to provide a future space-based imaging system that directly support our troops, allies, and coalition partners in theaters of operation."

From United Launch Alliance:

"ULA is pleased to have successfully launched the GeoEye 1 satellite for our GeoEye and Boeing Launch Services customers," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Delta Product Line. "We are excited to be part of the team that built and launched this advanced satellite technology, which will ultimately provide the highest-resolution view of our home planet ever available to scientists, businesses, the US government, and private citizens."

The vehicle guidance and navigation system for the Delta launch vehicles is provided by L-3 Space & Navigation's Redundant Inertial Flight Control Assembly (RIFCA).

"On behalf of the United Launch Alliance, I congratulate L-3 Communications on their outstanding achievement of the 100th consecutive successful RIFCA flight on this GeoEye 1 mission," said Sponnick.

"Today's launch was a significant milestone for our L-3 partners after a long history of support to the Delta 2, Delta 3, and Delta 4 vehicles."

From Vandenberg Air Force Base:

"This launch is a testament to the tremendous team effort between the Team Vandenberg and our industry partners," said Col. David Buck, 30th Space Wing commander. "We have one opportunity to be successful with each launch, 100 percent mission success and perfection is our standard."

2122 GMT (5:22 p.m. EDT; 2:22 p.m. PDT)

A quick photo from today's launch is posted here.

2040 GMT (4:40 p.m. EDT; 1:40 p.m. PDT)

This was the 83rd consecutive successful Delta 2 rocket launch dating back to May 1997. The Delta 2's overall history since debuting in 1989 has achieved 136 successes in 138 flights.

The next launch is roughly six weeks away, perhaps as early as October 23, to deploy the third Italian COSMO-SkyMed radar imaging spacecraft from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.

And preparations are underway at Florida's Cape Canaveral to loft the Global Positioning System Block 2R-20 satellite. That Delta 2 launch could go up November 7.

2031 GMT (4:31 p.m. EDT; 1:31 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 101 minutes. The Aerojet-made engine on the second stage has fired up for the fourth and final time in this launch of the Delta 2 rocket. The stage just conducted its fuel depletion burn that "safes" the rocket body, a procedure aimed at protecting against space debris.

In addition, this burn's other purpose was the removal of the rocket from the GeoEye 1 satellite's orbital plane. The stage was oriented perpendicular to the orbit plane for the engine ignition.

So that wraps up the rocket activity for the 335th flight of a Delta vehicle. Meanwhile, the GeoEye 1 ground team will soon start checking out the new satellite before it begins service in about 45 days.

2007 GMT (4:07 p.m. EDT; 1:07 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 76 minutes, 15 seconds. The Delta rocket's second stage just completed its third main engine burn of the day, this one designed to increase the distance between itself and the GeoEye 1 spacecraft.

The burn lasting only five or so seconds results in the rocket entering an elliptical orbit.

2004 GMT (4:04 p.m. EDT; 1:04 p.m. PDT)

Communications have been established between the newly-launched GeoEye 1 spacecraft and its ground controllers.

1950 GMT (3:50 p.m. EDT; 12:50 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 59 minutes, 23 seconds. The second stage retro jets have initiated to back the rocket away from the satellite.

1949 GMT (3:49 p.m. EDT; 12:49 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 58 minutes, 56 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The highest-resolution commercial Earth-imaging spacecraft has been released from the Delta 2 rocket's second stage, completing today's launch!

The GeoEye 1 satellite will produce the sharpest images available from a private spacecraft, with a resolution of 0.41 meters or 16 inches for black and white imagery and 1.65 meters for color imagery.

1949 GMT (3:49 p.m. EDT; 12:49 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 58 minutes, 35 seconds. The clampband has released, standing by to open the latches holding the 4,300-pound satellite to the rocket's second stage.

1945 GMT (3:45 p.m. EDT; 12:45 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 55 minutes. The deployment of GeoEye 1 from the Delta second stage is a two-step process. The payload attach fitting's clampband will be released at T+plus 58 minutes, 10 seconds. A set of secondary latches then disengage at T+plus 58 minutes, 40 seconds, allowing the satellite to physically separate from the rocket.

The second stage then performs a retro maneuver to back away from GeoEye 1. That will be followed by a maneuver using the cold gas system to impart additional velocity in the rocket stage's departure rate from the vicinity of the satellite.

Later, another firing of the rocket's engine will move the stage into an elliptical orbit and then a final burn will be performed to remove the Delta from GeoEye's orbital plane and deplete the remaining fuel supply as a safety measure.

1944 GMT (3:44 p.m. EDT; 12:44 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 53 minutes, 45 seconds. SECO 2. Confirmation has been received that the second stage completed its second burn.

1944 GMT (3:44 p.m. EDT; 12:44 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 53 minutes, 35 seconds. Good chamber pressure reported on the second stage.

1944 GMT (3:44 p.m. EDT; 12:44 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 53 minutes, 31 seconds. The second stage engine firing is in progress. This is just a brief 14-second burn to move from the elliptical transfer orbit to the planned circular orbit.

1942 GMT (3:42 p.m. EDT; 12:42 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 52 minutes. The quick data review shows good performance from the earlier burn by the second stage. The rocket has targeting a 100 by 380 nautical mile orbit inclined 98 degrees to the equator.

1940 GMT (3:40 p.m. EDT; 12:40 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 49 minutes, 15 seconds. Hartebeesthoek has picked up the rocket's signal as it flies northeasterly toward Madagascar.

1939 GMT (3:39 p.m. EDT; 12:39 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 49 minutes. The next firing by the Delta rocket's second stage is coming up in about four minutes. The Hartebeesthoek tracking station in South Africa should acquire the rocket shortly. The site will relay the rocket's signal back to Vandenberg to provide confirmation of the second stage burn and release of the GeoEye 1 satellite.

1930 GMT (3:30 p.m. EDT; 12:30 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 40 minutes. The rocket is coasting until the second stage restarts its engine at T+plus 53 minutes, 20 seconds for a brief 14-second firing to boost the vehicle from its current elliptical orbit to a near-circular orbit above Earth. Deployment of GeoEye 1 from the launch vehicle is expected 58 minutes, 40 seconds after liftoff.

1920 GMT (3:20 p.m. EDT; 12:20 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 30 minutes. The Range liftoff time was 11:50:57.502 a.m. local time.

1910 GMT (3:10 p.m. EDT; 12:10 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 20 minutes. As this coast phase of the launch continues, you can see a map of the rocket's planned track here.

1904 GMT (3:04 p.m. EDT; 12:04 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 13 minutes, 30 seconds. The rocket is moving out the OTTR tracking ship's coverage zone now. The next telemetry session with the vehicle is expected via a ground station in South Africa about 36 minutes from now.

1903 GMT (3:03 p.m. EDT; 12:03 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 12 minutes, 15 seconds. SECO 1 now confirmed. The second stage's Aerojet-made engine completed its initial burn for the launch. Delta has reached a parking orbit where it will coast until about T+plus 53 minutes.

1901 GMT (3:01 p.m. EDT; 12:01 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 10 minutes, 45 seconds. About a minute remaining in this firing by the second stage.

1900 GMT (3:00 p.m. EDT; 12:00 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 9 minutes, 55 seconds. The vehicle is 103 miles in altitude, 1,039 miles downrange from the launch pad and traveling at 14,500 mph.

1900 GMT (3:00 p.m. EDT; 12:00 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 9 minutes, 35 seconds. An instrumented ship positioned in the Pacific about 1,200 miles southwest of San Diego has acquired the rocket's telemetry signal as the Delta flies out of range from Vandenberg. The vessel, known as The Vigilance, has been outfitted with an equipment package called an Ocean-going Transportable Test and evaluation Resource, or OTTR.

The mobile tracker is needed to receive the stream of data from the Delta 2's second stage after the rocket flies beyond the horizon of Vandenberg's ground station and reaches a preliminary parking orbit around the planet.

1859 GMT (2:59 p.m. EDT; 11:59 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 8 minutes, 45 seconds. The second stage continues to fire as the Delta 2 rocket streaks southward en route to polar orbit.

1858 GMT (2:58 p.m. EDT; 11:58 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 7 minutes, 45 seconds. The Delta 2 rocket is 675 miles south from the launch pad, traveling at 12,360 mph.

1857 GMT (2:57 p.m. EDT; 11:57 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 6 minutes, 35 seconds. The Delta 2 rocket is 94.7 miles in altitude, traveling at 11,470 mph.

1856 GMT (2:56 p.m. EDT; 11:56 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 5 minutes, 10 seconds. The Delta 2 rocket is 72 miles in altitude and 266 miles downrange.

1855 GMT (2:55 p.m. EDT; 11:55 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 55 seconds. The rocket's nose cone enclosing the spacecraft has been jettisoned.

1855 GMT (2:55 p.m. EDT; 11:55 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds. The Delta's second stage engine has ignited!

1855 GMT (2:55 p.m. EDT; 11:55 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 40 seconds. MECO. The first stage main engine cutoff is confirmed, and the spent stage has been jettisoned!

1855 GMT (2:55 p.m. EDT; 11:55 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 20 seconds. The vehicle is 52 miles in altitude, 141 miles downrange from the launch pad and traveling at 9,060 mph.

1854 GMT (2:54 p.m. EDT; 11:54 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The first stage main engine continues to burn normally. The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne powerplant consumes kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen to produce about 200,000 pounds of thrust.

1853 GMT (2:53 p.m. EDT; 11:53 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 20 seconds. Now passing through an altitude of 25 miles, some 7.8 miles downrange from the launch pad and traveling 2,194 mph.

1852 GMT (2:52 p.m. EDT; 11:52 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 45 seconds. Delta is 16.6 miles in altitude, 4.7 miles downrange from the launch pad and traveling at 1,420 mph.

1852 GMT (2:52 p.m. EDT; 11:52 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 30 seconds. The ground-lit boosters have jettisoned from the first stage. They remained attached until the rocket cleared off-shore oil rigs.

1852 GMT (2:52 p.m. EDT; 11:52 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 5 seconds. All four ground-start solid rocket boosters have burned out. The Delta 2's first stage RS-27A main engine is providing the sole thrust for the next few minutes.

1851 GMT (2:51 p.m. EDT; 11:51 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 50 seconds. The rocket has flown through the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure in the lower atmosphere. The vehicle is riding the power of its first stage main engine and the four strap-on boosters.

1851 GMT (2:51 p.m. EDT; 11:51 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 35 seconds. Mach 1.

1851 GMT (2:51 p.m. EDT; 11:51 a.m. PDT)

T+plus 15 seconds. Delta is maneuvering on course for its ascent to space, punching through the layer of low clouds covering the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch site.

1850:57 GMT (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 11:50:57 a.m. PDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the GeoEye 1 spacecraft -- the world's highest-resolution commercial Earth imager. And the Delta 2 rocket has cleared the tower!

1850 GMT (2:50 p.m. EDT; 11:50 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. SRB ignitors will be armed at T-minus 11 seconds.

The launch ignition sequence will begin at T-minus 2 seconds when a launch team member triggers the engine start switch. The process begins with ignition of the two vernier thrusters and first stage main engine start. The four ground-lit solid rocket motors then light at T-0 for liftoff.

1849:57 GMT (2:49:57 p.m. EDT; 11:49:57 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 1 minute. The Air Force-controlled Western Range has given its final clear-to-launch.

1849 GMT (2:49 p.m. EDT; 11:49 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 80 seconds. First stage liquid oxygen topping to 100 percent is underway.

1849 GMT (2:49 p.m. EDT; 11:49 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 45 seconds. The launch pad water suppression system is being activated.

1848:57 GMT (2:48:57 p.m. EDT; 11:48:57 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. The first stage liquid oxygen vents are now being closed so the LOX tank can be pressurized for launch. Puffs of vapor from a relief valve on the rocket will be seen in the remainder of the countdown as the tank pressure stabilizes.

1848 GMT (2:48 p.m. EDT; 11:48 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 2 minutes, 30 seconds. The GeoEye 1 satellite has been declared "go" for launch.

1848 GMT (2:48 p.m. EDT; 11:48 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 2 minutes, 45 seconds. Vehicle ordnance is being armed.

1847:57 GMT (2:47:57 p.m. EDT; 11:47:57 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. All remains "go" for launch.

1847 GMT (2:47 p.m. EDT; 11:47 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 3 minutes, 45 seconds and counting. The Delta 2 rocket's systems are now transferring to internal power for launch. And the launch pad water system is being enabled.

1846:57 GMT (2:46:57 p.m. EDT; 11:46:57 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and counting! Clocks are ticking down the final moments for liftoff of Delta 2 rocket with the GeoEye 1 spacecraft. Launch is set for 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

1845:57 GMT (2:45:57 p.m. EDT; 11:45:57 a.m. PDT)

Now five minutes from launch! The "go" has been given for release of the hold in one minute.

1842 GMT (2:42 p.m. EDT; 11:42 a.m. PDT)

The launch team was just polled and all systems were reported "ready."

1841 GMT (2:41 p.m. EDT; 11:41 a.m. PDT)

Flight Director Rick Navarro has completed his management poll with no problems reported.

1840:57 GMT (2:40:57 p.m. EDT; 11:40:57 a.m. PDT)

Now 10 minutes from launch of the GeoEye 1 spacecraft, which was built by General Dynamics.

"They've had up to 100 people working on the program at times and it's taken them almost four years to build the satellite. These are not assembly line-type satellites, these are one-of-a-kind pieces of art and the technology is most advanced and stems from the knowledge and heritage that came from, in many cases, the intelligence community," says Mark Brender, GeoEye's vice president of communications and marketing.

"In fact, the star trackers that are on GeoEye 1 built by Ball Aerospace Technologies actually were going to be on a classified government satellite program. But that program got cancelled and we got the star trackers. And the star trackers help the satellite orient itself in space. That, plus GPS that's in the satellite gives us this terrific metric accuracy, or map accuracy, that's associated with our imagery."

1836:57 GMT (2:36:57 p.m. EDT; 11:36:57 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the final planned built-in hold. This is a scheduled 10-minute pause leading to today's liftoff time of 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT) for the Delta 2 rocket with GeoEye 1.

During the hold, officials will poll the various team members in the "soft blockhouse," Range Operations Control Center and Mission Directors Center to verify all systems are ready to enter into the final phase of the countdown.

1836 GMT (2:36 p.m. EDT; 11:36 a.m. PDT)

The GeoEye 1 spacecraft atop the Delta rocket is switching to internal battery power for launch.

1835 GMT (2:35 p.m. EDT; 11:35 a.m. PDT)

The launch weather officer has confirmed conditions are "go" for liftoff.

1831 GMT (2:31 p.m. EDT; 11:31 a.m. PDT)

The first stage's kerosene fuel tank is being pressurized for launch.

1825 GMT (2:25 p.m. EDT; 11:25 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 15 minutes and counting. All systems remain "go" and countdown clocks are running again following the planned 20-minute hold. The count will continue to the T-minus 4 minute mark where another hold is scheduled. Launch remains set to occur at 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT).

1821 GMT (2:21 p.m. EDT; 11:21 a.m. PDT)

The launch team members were just polled. All responded with a "ready" to press ahead with the countdown toward liftoff.

1820 GMT (2:20 p.m. EDT; 11:20 a.m. PDT)

Thirty minutes to launch. The Delta 2 rocket is poised to soar away from California at 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT) today to deliver the GeoEye 1 imaging spacecraft into orbit.

"We are really confident of success," says Mark Brender, GeoEye's vice president of communications and marketing. "The Boeing Delta 2 has a 98.5 percent success rate. The last 82 launches have been successful. General Dynamics built the satellite; they've never had a failure. And ITT built the camera that's in the satellite and they've never had a failure. So we've put together a terrific team."

1815 GMT (2:15 p.m. EDT; 11:15 a.m. PDT)

Now half-way through this built-in hold at T-minus 15 minutes. Once the countdown resumes, clocks will tick down to the T-minus 4 minute mark where a 10-minute hold is planned.

1805 GMT (2:05 p.m. EDT; 11:05 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 15 minutes and holding. Clocks have entered the first of two planned hold periods during the final quarter of the Terminal Countdown for today's launch. This pause will last 20 minutes in duration.

These holds are designed to give the launch team a chance to deal with any problems and finish work that could be running behind schedule.

1801 GMT (2:01 p.m. EDT; 11:01 a.m. PDT)

The first stage engine steering checks have been accomplished.

1757 GMT (1:57 p.m. EDT; 10:57 a.m. PDT)

The second stage engine slews are complete. First stage tests have begun.

1756 GMT (1:56 p.m. EDT; 10:56 a.m. PDT)

The launch team is beginning the "slew" or steering checks of the first and second stage engines. These are gimbal tests of the nozzles on the first stage main engine and twin vernier engines and second stage engine to ensure the rocket will be able to steer itself during launch.

1750 GMT (1:50 p.m. EDT; 10:50 a.m. PDT)

Sixty minutes to launch. Powering the Delta 2 rocket's first stage during the initial four-and-a-half minutes of flight today will be the RS-27A main engine built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. It will be the 224th launch boosted by the RS-27 family of engines.

The GeoEye 1 Earth-imaging satellite is relying on the kerosene-fueled engine to ascend the first 60 miles during its climb upward to space.

"We're proud to be part of this cutting-edge technology that will ultimately change the way we view Earth," said Elizabeth Jones, RS-27 program manager, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. "Our goal is 100 percent mission success and providing the best-quality product to our customers. The bonus with GeoEye 1 is the knowledge that we are helping scientists monitor and take care of our planet and natural resources."

1749 GMT (1:49 p.m. EDT; 10:49 a.m. PDT)

The safety system checks have been completed satisfactorily. Next up in the countdown will be engine steering testing.

1745 GMT (1:45 p.m. EDT; 10:45 a.m. PDT)

Inhibited checks are now beginning for the Range Safety command destruct receivers that would be used to bring down the rocket should the vehicle veer off course or malfunction during the launch.

1740 GMT (1:40 p.m. EDT; 10:40 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 40 minutes and counting. Countdown clocks are continuing to the T-minus 15 minute mark where a 20-minute built-in hold is planned. A final 10-minute hold at T-minus 4 minutes will lead to the target liftoff time of 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT).

1734 GMT (1:34 p.m. EDT; 10:34 a.m. PDT)

Loading of the Delta 2 rocket's first stage liquid oxygen tank was completed at 10:33:53 a.m. local time. The operation took 26 minutes and 19 seconds today. The tank will be replenished through the countdown to replace the super-cold liquid oxygen that naturally boils away.

The rocket is now fully fueled for launch. The vehicle's first stage was successfully loaded with RP-1 kerosene fuel earlier today. The second stage was filled with its storable nitrogen tetroxide and Aerozine 50 fuels a few days ago. And the four strap-on booster rockets are solid-propellant.

1727 GMT (1:27 p.m. EDT; 10:27 a.m. PDT)

Liquid oxygen loading has been underway for 20 minutes. Once the first stage tank is 95 percent full, the "rapid load" valve will be closed and the slower "fine load" phase will continue to fill the rocket.

1720 GMT (1:20 p.m. EDT; 10:20 a.m. PDT)

Liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket is 90 minutes away. Today's launch will be:

  • The 335th Delta rocket launch since 1960
  • The fourth Delta of 2008
  • The 138th Delta 2 rocket mission since 1989
  • The fourth commercial Delta 2 conducted by ULA for Boeing Launch Services

1717 GMT (1:17 p.m. EDT; 10:17 a.m. PDT)

Now 10 minutes into this approximate 25-minute process to fill the first stage liquid oxygen tank. A bright white plume of vapors have begun streaming from a vent on the rocket and the bottom of the vehicle is icing over as the super-cold liquid oxygen continues to flow into the first stage.

1707 GMT (1:07 p.m. EDT; 10:07 a.m. PDT)

LOX LOADING BEGINS. Cryogenic liquid oxygen, chilled to Minus-298 degrees F, has started flowing from a 28,000-gallon storage tank at Space Launch Complex 2, through plumbing and into the bottom of the Delta 2 rocket. The LOX will be consumed by the first stage main engine during the first four-and-a-half minutes of flight along with the 10,000 gallons of RP-1 kerosene already loaded aboard the vehicle.

1704 GMT (1:04 p.m. EDT; 10:04 a.m. PDT)

The launch team has completed work to turn on and configure the Delta's onboard guidance computer.

1701 GMT (1:01 p.m. EDT; 10:01 a.m. PDT)

The launch team has a "go" to begin preparations for loading the rocket's first stage liquid oxygen tank as planned.

1650 GMT (12:50 p.m. EDT; 9:50 a.m. PDT)

Now two hours from launch of the GeoEye 1 commercial Earth-imaging satellite aboard a Delta 2 rocket.

The Delta rocket will be flying in its configuration known as the 7420-10 vehicle. The two-stage launcher is fitted with four strap-on solid-propellant motors and a 10-foot diameter composite nose cone.

After quickly climbing away from its coastal pad, the rocket will soar southward over the Pacific Ocean. The four solid boosters burn out and separate less than 90 seconds into the flight, leaving the kerosene-powered main engine to continue pushing the rocket to an altitude of 60 miles. The spent stage then jettisons to let the hydrazine-fueled second stage ignite.

Within 12 minutes, the vehicle settles into an initial parking orbit along a trajectory the cruises above the South Pacific before crossing Antarctica and then proceeding northbound toward Africa. The second stage reignites its engine for nearly 14 seconds over Madagascar to reach a near-circular polar orbit 367 nautical miles above the planet.

The 4,300-pound payload is expected to be released from the rocket 58 minutes after blastoff to begin its life of imaging the Earth in high-resolution clarity.

1636 GMT (12:36 p.m. EDT; 9:36 a.m. PDT)

The first stage fuel tank of the Delta 2 rocket has been fully loaded for today's planned launch. The tank was filled with a highly refined kerosene, called RP-1, during a 20-minute, 15-second process that concluded at 9:35:49 a.m. local time.

The next major task in the count will be loading super-cold cryogenic liquid oxygen into the first stage starting in about 30 minutes.

The kerosene and liquid oxygen will be consumed by the stage's Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-27A main engine and twin vernier steering thrusters during the initial four-and-a-half minutes of flight.

1634 GMT (12:34 p.m. EDT; 9:34 a.m. PDT)

Rapid-loading of the RP-1 tank has concluded with 9,800 gallons already aboard the rocket. Fine load is continuing to finish filling the tank.

1632 GMT (12:32 p.m. EDT; 9:32 a.m. PDT)

The launch team has computed that today's full load for the first stage fuel tank is 10,008 gallons.

Once the tank is filled to 98 percent or 9,800 gallons, the "rapid load" valve will be closed and the slower "fine load" phase will continue to top off the tank.

1624 GMT (12:24 p.m. EDT; 9:24 a.m. PDT)

The first stage tank is half full, with 5,000 gallons of kerosene aboard the rocket.

1615 GMT (12:15 p.m. EDT; 9:15 a.m. PDT)

FUELING BEGINS. About 10,000 gallons of the kerosene propellant are pumping into the base of the rocket from storage tanks at the pad as fueling of the Delta 2's first stage begins for today's launch.

1611 GMT (12:11 p.m. EDT; 9:11 a.m. PDT)

First stage fueling preparations are starting. After verifying valves, sensors, flow meters and equipment are ready, a highly-refined kerosene fuel will begin flowing into the vehicle a few minutes from now.

1555 GMT (11:55 a.m. EDT; 8:55 a.m. PDT)

Activation of the rocket's Redundant Inertial Flight Control Assembly guidance computer is beginning now. And the launch team is starting pressurization steps for the first and second stage helium and nitrogen systems and second stage fuel tanks.

1550 GMT (11:50 a.m. EDT; 8:50 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 150 minutes and counting. The Terminal Countdown has been initiated for today's launch of the commercial GeoEye 1 Earth-observing spacecraft aboard the 335th Delta rocket.

Weather conditions are acceptable and pre-flight activities are proceeding as anticipated for liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The site is on the Pacific coastline, about 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Following ignition of the main engine and four strap-on solid rocket boosters, the vehicle will head southward as it climbs into orbit on a 58-minute flight to deploy the GeoEye satellite cargo.

The countdown clocks currently stand at T-minus 150 minutes and counting. Two further holds are planned at the T-minus 15 minute and the T-minus 4 minute points. The first hold will last 20 minutes in duration, the second hold will last 10 minutes.

Today's brief launch window extends 84 seconds, opening at 11:50:57 a.m. and closing at 11:52:21 a.m. local time (1850:57-1852:21 GMT).

1542 GMT (11:42 a.m. EDT; 8:42 a.m. PDT)

The launch team has been polled to ensure all stations are manned and systems are ready to proceed with the countdown.

1535 GMT (11:35 a.m. EDT; 8:35 a.m. PDT)

"Man stations for Terminal Count." That was the message just announced to the launch team in preparation for starting the Terminal Countdown some 15 minutes from now. Liftoff of the Delta 2 rocket remains targeted to occur at 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT).

1520 GMT (11:20 a.m. EDT; 8:20 a.m. PDT)

Now 30 minutes through this scheduled hour-long hold in the countdown. A launch team readiness check prior to starting the Terminal Count is coming up shortly.

1507 GMT (11:07 a.m. EDT; 8:07 a.m. PDT)

The launch pad water pumps have been successfully brought online for the count. Now, the final members of the pad crew are preparing to leave the complex for the rest of the countdown.

1450 GMT (10:50 a.m. EDT; 7:50 a.m. PDT)

T-minus 150 minutes and holding. The countdown has just entered a planned 60-minute built-in hold at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Terminal Countdown will begin once this hold is concluded. Launch remains scheduled for exactly 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT) today.

Unlike other spaceflights that may have lengthy periods of time each day to blast off, this launch of the Delta 2 rocket with the GeoEye 1 satellite has a window lasting just 84 seconds.

The tight requirements to place the Earth-imaging satellite into its optimum orbit and also position the craft relative to GeoEye's existing Ikonos satellite drives the short launch opportunity.

But the Delta 2 rocket is no stranger to precise launch shots. NASA science spacecraft flown on Delta vehicles, including missions to Mars, often have just one-second windows. And the long series of Iridium global mobile communications satellites launched from Vandenberg on Delta 2 boosters had five-second windows.

Since there will be little margin to delay today's liftoff if problems crop up, the Delta team has arranged the countdown to include three planned holds at the T-minus 150 minute, T-minus 15 minute and T-minus 4 minute points. The holds give the engineers blocks of time to resolve any issues and catch up on work that may have fallen behind schedule.

1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT; 7:30 a.m. PDT)

A collection of photos showing the very foggy scene at Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex 2 pad following the overnight rollback of the mobile service gantry from around the Delta 2 rocket can be seen here.

1415 GMT (10:15 a.m. EDT; 7:15 a.m. PDT)

The launch team members and senior managers are arriving at the control centers to conduct today's flight of the Delta 2 rocket that will deploy the GeoEye 1 imaging satellite.

1230 GMT (8:30 a.m. EDT; 5:30 a.m. PDT)

Workers are scurrying around the Space Launch Complex 2 pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base this morning, putting the final touches on the Delta 2 rocket before its trip into orbit.

The mobile service tower has been wheeled away from the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket. Rollback of the 177-foot tall gantry achieves a noteworthy milestone on the path to today's liftoff and clears the way for countdown procedures to progress as planned.

The gantry was used to stack the two-stage vehicle, the four strap-on solid rocket motors and the GeoEye 1 payload atop the pad's launch mount. The tower also provided the primary weather protection and worker access to the rocket during its stay at the oceanside complex on North Vandenberg.

Ground teams will spend the next couple of hours getting the pad secured in advance of the Terminal Countdown. Launch remains targeted for 11:50 a.m. local time (2:50 p.m. EDT; 1850 GMT).

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2008
1830 GMT (2:30 p.m. EDT; 11:30 a.m. PDT)


The Launch Readiness Review has been completed and all systems are "go" for Saturday's launch of the GeoEye 1 imaging satellite aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

"We got out of the Launch Readiness Review about an hour ago and it's as green as I've seen a list of parameters for any launch I've been involved in," Ken Heinly, president of Boeing Launch Services, said in an interview Friday.

Air Force meteorologists are predicting a 100 percent chance of good weather for the launch. But some in the rocket business worry that perfect weather can be a curse that causes a technical gremlin to surface.

"I was maybe a little concerned because the probability of having a weather problem was at zero percent. I know there are some people that are a little superstitious about that," Heinly joked.

Technicians are gearing up for the early morning start of the countdown preps. Retraction of the mobile service gantry at the Space Launch Complex 2 pad to reveal the rocket is expected to be completed by approximately 4 a.m. local time (7 a.m. EDT; 1100 GMT). The Terminal Countdown commences at 8:50 a.m. local (11:50 a.m. EDT; 1550 GMT).

The precise launch time is targeted for 11:50:57 a.m. local time (2:50:57 p.m. EDT; 1850:57 GMT).

It will take 58 minutes for the two-stage rocket to deliver the GeoEye 1 spacecraft into the desired orbit for its Earth-imaging mission. Ground controllers expect to establish communications with the satellite about 90 minutes into the flight.

The craft should be checked out and ready to enter service within two months. It will produce the sharpest images available from a commercial spacecraft, with a resolution of 0.41 meters or 16 inches for black and white imagery and 1.65 meters for color imagery.

A chief customer of GeoEye 1's imagery will be the U.S. government. A $500 million contract from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency helped finance construction and launch of the sophisticated satellite under the NextView program.

Another user of GeoeEye 1 will be Google.

"We will provide satellite imagery to Google Earth and Google Maps from GeoEye 1. We have an exclusive agreement...and we will not be selling GeoEye 1 imagery to the other online mapping search sites," said Mark Brender, GeoEye's vice president of communications and marketing.

A Google sticker has been placed on the Delta 2 rocket's first stage, along with other logos from GeoEye, Boeing and United Launch Alliance.

"Google doesn't have any direct or even indirect financial interest in the satellite that's sitting on top of the rocket or in our company," Brender said. "Google has simply agreed to have their logo appear on the launch vehicle, really to sort of demonstrate their commitment in gathering the best satellite imagery commercially available."

Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, the GeoEye company was created in early 2006 by merging satellite operators Space Imaging and OrbView. The new GeoEye 1 satellite will join the company's Ikonos and OrbView 2 satellites currently in operation today.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2008

A Delta 2 rocket has been granted a Saturday launch opportunity at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base to put the highest-resolution commercial Earth observing satellite into orbit.

The 84-second launch window will extend from 11:50:57 to 11:52:21 a.m. local time (1850:57-1852:21 GMT).

Air Force weather forecasters are predicting a 100 percent chance of acceptable conditions for the blastoff from the Space Launch Complex 2 pad.

"Upper level high pressure with light onshore flow will be the predominant weather pattern leading up to the launch window," the weather team reported Thursday. "Low stratus and fog will persist during the overnight and early morning hours causing one-quarter mile visibility and low ceilings during exposure. By launch time, the marine layer will push offshore giving way to improving conditions at SLC-2."

The launch time outlook includes scattered stratus clouds at 400 feet, no precipitation along the flight path, 7 miles of visibility, north-northwest winds of 8 to 12 knots and a temperature in the low 60s F. Maximum upper-level winds will be westerly at 40 knots between 45,000 and 50,000 feet with no considerable wind shear, forecasters said.

Should the launch be delayed to Sunday for some reason, acceptable weather is expected to continue.

"There will be little change in the pattern during the 24 hours following T-0. The pressure gradient will remain light with northwesterly winds at 8-12 knots. The marine layer will persist through the launch period with 400-foot ceilings expected at launch time. Max upper-level winds will be westerly at 45 knots from 40,000-45,000 feet," the weather team said.

The Launch Readiness Review will be held Friday morning to give final approval to begin the countdown procedures.

Watch this page for live coverage of Saturday's countdown and launch!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2008
2320 GMT (7:20 p.m. EDT; 4:20 p.m. PDT)


Now that forecasters expect Florida will be spared a direct impact from Tropical Storm Hanna, United Launch Alliance officials are hoping to reschedule the Delta 2 rocket flight carrying the commercial GeoEye 1 satellite for Saturday.

The launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base had been slated to occur on Thursday. But the flight had to be postponed because Florida-based engineers needed to support the launch were staying home to ride out the storm with their families.

The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows Hanna's predicted path heading out of the Bahamas and toward the Carolinas. That track would keep Hanna well offshore of Florida's eastern coast.

News of the shifting path was welcomed by launch officials. The rocket and spacecraft payload had been placed in standby while Hanna churned in the Atlantic.

"Unfortunately, Hurricane Hanna has created this 'perfect storm' where despite having the spacecraft and booster ready and expected favorable weather on the West Coast, we are unable to launch due to lack of launch personnel because of weather on the East Coast," Bill Schuster, GeoEye's chief operating officer, said on Tuesday in announcing the launch delay.

ULA is working with the Air Force-run Western Range at Vandenberg to formally schedule the new launch attempt on Saturday. The 84-second launch window will extend from 11:50:57 to 11:52:21 a.m. local time (1850:57-1852:21 GMT).

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2008
1945 GMT (3:45 p.m. EDT; 12:45 p.m. PDT)


The looming threat posed by Tropical Storm Hanna on Florida's Space Coast is being felt across the country, forcing United Launch Alliance officials to postpone Thursday's planned liftoff of a Delta 2 rocket from California.

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida entered HURCON 4 alert status earlier today. That Hurricane Condition means personnel should begin preparing for the possible arrival of a storm, which could bring high winds and heavy rain to the area starting late Thursday.

Some members of the launch team are based at the Cape and travel to California's Vandenberg Air Force Base to support Delta rocket flights. But ULA allows its workers to stay with their families under hurricane alert conditions.

The Cape workers that travel to California are required members of the launch team and their absence means Thursday's launch cannot proceed as planned.

"After a thorough review of all options, there was no choice but to postpone the launch," officials said in the press release announcing the delay.

As of 2 p.m. EDT today, Hanna was centered over the southeastern Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. Forecasters predict the storm will strengthen into a hurricane on Wednesday and possibly brush Florida's east-central coast late Thursday or Friday morning.

The National Hurricane Center's forecast track can be seen here.

Assuming Hanna passes the Cape area by early Friday, the workers could fly to California in time to support a launch on Sunday. Any slowing of the storm's path could push the launch back to Monday, officials said.

For now, the Delta 2 rocket and its Earth-imaging satellite payload remain tucked away inside the Space Launch Complex 2 mobile service gantry on the northern part of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The daily 84-second launch window extends from 11:50:57 to 11:52:21 a.m. local time (1850:57-1852:21 GMT).

The GeoEye 1 satellite will produce the sharpest images available from a private spacecraft. Customers of the high-resolution imagery are expected to include the U.S. government, commercial firms, environmental monitors and various industries such as air and marine transportation, agriculture and mining.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008

The Flight Readiness Review was held Thursday and gave approval to continue with preparations for the scheduled Sept. 4 mission of the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket carrying the GeoEye 1 spacecraft.

The launch vehicle, satellite, Western Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base and other critical support elements are reported "go" for the commercial flight next week.

Watch this page for complete live coverage of the countdown and launch!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 12, 2008

Launch of a commercial Earth-imaging satellite aboard a Delta 2 rocket originally scheduled to occur next week from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will be pushed into early September.

Liftoff of the GeoEye 1 satellite had been targeted for August 22. But difficulties arranging a critical downrange tracking asset prompted launch managers to postpone the flight until September 4.

Read our full story.

MONDAY, JULY 14, 2008

Launch preparations are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to ready a commercial Earth-imaging spacecraft for its deployment into orbit by a Delta 2 rocket.

The GeoEye 1 satellite arrived at the launch site last Wednesday, July 9, after being trucked from the General Dynamics factory in Gilbert, Arizonia. The craft will undergo a final round of pre-launch testing and fueling inside a Vandenberg processing facility.

Read our full story.

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