BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the Air Force Titan 2 rocket carrying the DMSP F16 weather satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2003

The curtain closed on the Titan 2 rocket era Saturday, and now plans are being formulated to deactivate and later tear down the booster's launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Read our full story.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2003

Leaving behind three difficult years of delays and disappointments, a seemingly jinxed U.S. military weather satellite finally enjoyed a reversal of fortune Saturday as it successfully soared into space. Read our full launch story.

1723 GMT (1:23 p.m. EDT)

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program F16 spacecraft has successfully launched into orbit today after three years of waiting, Lockheed Martin has confirmed. The craft's solar array has been deployed and its onboard batteries are charging.

It will take about a month to test the satellite before it enters service.

"Our plans for this mission is to spend about 30 days of checkout period after launch," said Col. Randy Odle, the DMSP system program director at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

"The first half of that will be checking out our spacecraft bus and subsystems, and some of the sensor deployments that are associated with the early-orbit test phase. The later part of that -- 10 days to two weeks -- is going to be specifically to check out, validate and calibrate our primary mission sensors -- the Optical Linescan System.

"So at the end of that 30-day period, we will be able to stand up and, with confidence, say we have the primary mission capability on-orbit and we are ready to turn to our operators for constellation operation."

We will post a complete wrap-up story on the mission later today.

1637 GMT (12:37 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 20 minutes. We are standing by for confirmation from the Air Force that the spacecraft has achieved orbit. This page will be updated when status of the satellite is announced.

1633 GMT (12:33 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 16 minutes. The DMSP spacecraft should be orbiting Earth by now. However, we haven't received confirmation from the Air Force that the satellite performed its kick motor firing.

That burn should have put the satellite into a 421 by 460 nautical mile orbit. A few seconds later, a 21-second firing of the spacecraft's hydrazine thrusters was to begin to deliver the satellite into a circular orbit around Earth's poles at an altitude of 458 nautical miles and inclined 98.7 degrees to the equator.

1631 GMT (12:31 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 14 minutes. The Apogee Kick Motor attached to the bottom of the DMSP F16 satellite should have ignited by now, injecting the craft into a stable orbit around Earth. However, we may not get real-time confirmation of this burn.

1628 GMT (12:28 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 11 minutes. The Titan 2 rocket drops off the DMSP spacecraft on a ballistic trajectory. The upcoming kick motor firing will provide the necessary boost to achieve a stable orbit. Without this burn, DMSP would reenter the atmosphere and not complete even one orbit of Earth.

1623 GMT (12:23 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 6 minutes, 50 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION CONFIRMED! The Air Force's DMSP weather satellite has been released from the Titan 2 rocket. But this does not conclude the craft's journey. The satellite's onboard solid-fueled Apogee Kick Motor will ignite in about seven minutes to deliver the craft into orbit around Earth.

1622 GMT (12:22 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes, 37 seconds. The Titan 2 rocket's second stage has cutoff as planned, completing the powered phase of today's launch for the converted ICBM missile.

1621 GMT (12:21 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 30 seconds. Less than one minute remaining in the second stage burn. No problems have been reported thus far in the flight.

1620 GMT (12:20 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 52 seconds. The payload fairing enclosing the DMSP weather spacecraft atop the Titan 2 rocket has been jettisoned.

1620 GMT (12:20 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The second stage continues to fire.

1619 GMT (12:19 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 40 seconds. The first stage of the Titan 2 shut down and the spent stage has separated. The rocket's second stage engine has now ignited to continue the trek to space.

1618 GMT (12:18 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 90 seconds. One minute left in the first stage burn. No problems reported in the flight of Titan 2.

1618 GMT (12:18 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 10 seconds. Approaching the region of maximum aerodyanmic pressure as the Titan 2 vehicle climbs through the atmosphere.

1618 GMT (12:18 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 1 minute. A good flight of the Titan 2 rocket is being reported by Lockheed Martin.

1617 GMT (12:17 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 seconds. The Titan 2 rocket has maneuvered to the proper southerly heading to reach an orbit around Earth's poles.

1617 GMT (12:17 p.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the last Titan 2 rocket and the DMSP F16 satellite -- the long-delayed mission is finally on its way to observe weather conditions for U.S. military forces deployed around the globe. And the vehicle has cleared the tower!

1616 GMT (12:16 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 20 seconds. "Cindy Marie is go for launch," the launch team just announced. That is the nickname given to the rocket.

1616 GMT (12:16 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. The rocket's first and second stage pre-valves will open at this time. The vehicle's destruct system will be armed at T-minus 9 seconds. Titan 2 goes inertial at T-minus 5 seconds.

1616 GMT (12:16 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 57 seconds. Commit sequence start.

The "Fire Engine" command to ignite the liquid-fueled first stage engine will occur as the countdown reaches zero. Once the engine thrust reaches about 77 percent, the explosives bolts holding the rocket to the four columns of the launch mount are detonated and the Titan 2 lifts off. The whole process takes less than four seconds.

1615 GMT (12:15 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 90 seconds. The Western Range has reported its final "go" for launch.

1615 GMT (12:15 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes and counting. The rocket's flight termination system has been checked. No problems were reported during the test. The system would be used to destroy the vehicle if a problem occurred during the launch today.

1614 GMT (12:14 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes.

1613 GMT (12:13 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and counting. The Air Force Launch Controller has performed the final "clear-to-launch" poll and "go" was the word given all around.

1612 GMT (12:12 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes. All systems remain "go" for launch of the Titan 2 rocket -- a former Cold War ICBM missile built in the 1960s and stationed on alert in a silo at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas from 1967 to 1986 -- and the DMSP weather satellite.

1611 GMT (12:11 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 6 minutes and counting.

1609 GMT (12:09 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 8 minutes and counting. The DMSP spacecraft payload has been declared ready for launch.

1608 GMT (12:08 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 9 minutes. The final booster readiness check of the Titan 2 rocket has been completed with no problems reported. "The G-9 booster is ready for launch."

1607 GMT (12:07 p.m. EDT)

Now passing the T-minus 10 minute mark in the countdown.

1605 GMT (12:05 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 12 minutes. Everything remains set for flight today.

1602 GMT (12:02 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 15 minutes and counting. The final phase of today's countdown, known as Terminal Count, has started for launch of the last U.S. Air Force Titan 2 rocket and the DMSP F16 satellite.

1557 GMT (11:57 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 20 minutes.

1554 GMT (11:54 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 23 minutes. The Air Force Launch Controller has performed the "clear-to-proceed" poll. With no problems being worked, the launch team will enter the Terminal Count at T-minus 15 minutes as planned this morning. Liftoff remains set for 1617 GMT.

1547 GMT (11:47 a.m. EDT)

Now 30 minutes away from liftoff. All systems remain "go" for launch. The Terminal Countdown will commence at T-minus 15 minutes.

1541 GMT (11:41 a.m. EDT)

Reporters and photographers have arrived at the press viewing site to cover today's launch. However, foggy conditions are obscuring their view of the Space Launch Complex-4 West pad. Fog is not a constraint against launching the Titan 2 rocket, so all remains set for liftoff about 37 minutes from now.

1538 GMT (11:38 a.m. EDT)

The first stage oxizider tank pressurization has been completed. And the team has verified that the Titan 2 vehicle is ready for continued launch preparations.

1537 GMT (11:37 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 40 minutes. There is a 100 percent chance that weather conditions will be acceptable for liftoff during today's 10-minute launch window. Ground winds are light and variable, visibility is 6 miles with light fog and the temperature is 54 degrees F.

1533 GMT (11:33 a.m. EDT)

Officials at Vandenberg say high-altitude winds are acceptable for launch this morning.

1527 GMT (11:27 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 50 minutes. There are no problems being worked in the countdown and the weather conditions are acceptable for liftoff of the Titan 2 rocket with the DMSP F16 spacecraft at 1617 GMT (9:17 a.m. local time; 12:17 p.m. EDT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

1517 GMT (11:17 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 hour. The countdown is continuing as the launch team methodically checks off steps in their procedures and monitors systems in preparation for the 1617 GMT liftoff of Titan 2.

1501 GMT (11:01 a.m. EDT)

Officials have just given approval to now begin the first stage oxizider tank pressurization and tracking and flight safety checks.

1447 GMT (10:47 a.m. EDT)

Countdown clocks are now entering the final 90 minutes for today's planned 1617 GMT launch of the Titan 2 rocket and DMSP spacecraft from Vandenberg's South Base.

The launch team will soon be pressurizing first stage oxizider tank and beginning the tracking and flight safety checks of the Titan 2 rocket.

1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT)

The countdown is being controlled by the team located in the Space Launch Complex 4 Launch Operations Building. This blockhouse is located just 1,300 feet from the SLC-4W pad where the Titan 2 stands poised for its blastoff today.

Air Force Launch Controller is overseeing the blockhouse crew, commanding and controlling countdown activities and passing information up the chain of command to the Air Force Launch Director who makes the ultimate management decisions. During the final readiness poll in the countdown, the Launch Controller will verify the rocket, satellite payload and facilities are "go" for launch, then gives concurrence to the Launch Director to proceed to liftoff if no problems are reported.

The Launch Director and other senior Air Force officials are stationed in Vandenberg's Building 7000, which is located several miles away. The final launch decision authority rests with the Spacelift Commander of the Air Force's 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg.

1417 GMT (10:17 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 hours. The mobile service tower and the launch pad deck have been verified secured for today's liftoff.

1355 GMT (9:55 a.m. EDT)

Lockheed Martin says things are still going well in the countdown. The launch team members are working through their checklists of steps to secure the pad as well as ready the vehicle and spacecraft for flight.

1317 GMT (9:17 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 hours and counting down to today's launch of the last-ever Titan 2 rocket and the DMSP F16 weather observatory. Liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base along California's Central Coast is set for 1617 GMT (9:17 a.m. local time; 12:17 p.m. EDT). The rocket will head southward to propel the satellite on its way into polar orbit.

1243 GMT (8:43 a.m. EDT)

The mobile tower is now in its parked position for launch.

1237 GMT (8:37 a.m. EDT)

As the mobile service tower wheels back to the launch position, it is now clear of the rocket.

The 200-foot tall mobile service tower is a massive structure that serves as a rocket assembly building and cocoon-like shelter for the Titan 2 vehicle at Space Launch Complex-4 West.

The tower provides the primary access and weather protection for the rocket while at the seaside pad overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It also has a 30-ton crane used to lift stages of the rocket and the satellite payload for stacking operations.

1223 GMT (8:23 a.m. EDT)

The "go" has been given to start rolling the mobile service tower away from the Titan 2 rocket for today's scheduled liftoff. An announcement at the launch pad has just told crews that the tower will begin moving at this time!

The retraction to the launch position will take about a half-hour as the structure rolls 180 feet away from the Titan 2.

A few minutes ago, the launch weather officer verified that all conditions are within limits for rolling back the tower. Currently at the pad, winds are five knots from the northeast at 035 degrees. The temperature is 55 degrees F.

For launch time, winds are expected to be 12 knots from 130 degrees. The temperature is forecast to be 54 degrees F.

1214 GMT (8:14 a.m. EDT)

Countdown clocks are ticking at Vandenberg Air Force Base for liftoff of the Titan 2 rocket today carrying a military weather satellite. Launch remains set to occur at 1617 GMT (9:17 a.m. local time; 12:17 p.m. EDT).

Preparations to roll the mobile service tower away from the rocket have been progressing this morning. The structure will be retracted shortly.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2003

Ready for its fifth countdown in 33 months, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program F16 spacecraft and the final Titan 2 rocket will try again Saturday to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Liftoff from the Space Launch Complex-4 West launch pad is scheduled for 1617 GMT (9:17 a.m. local time; 12:17 p.m. EDT). The day's available launch window extends for 10 minutes.

The $450 million mission most recently tried to launch on Thursday, but concerns with the rocket's Inertial Measurement Unit navigation computer forced officials to halt the countdown. Lockheed Martin said a component in the IMU was drawing more current than expected.

Since the scrub, engineers have collected data from the unit and performed a lengthy analysis to determine if the IMU was fit for flight. Managers met Friday afternoon and decided they were confident in the unit's health.

"They reviewed in some detail the analysis of the Inertial Measurement Unit and concluded the performance of the unit is acceptable for flight, so they gave approval to press ahead with plans for (Saturday) morning," Lockheed Martin spokesman Evan McCollum said.

This hard-luck mission made two liftoff attempts in January 2001, both of which were scrubbed by technical glitches. A long series of troubles followed, delaying the launch until this week. Wednesday's countdown was scrubbed after workers got behind schedule when the air conditioning line feeding into the rocket's nose cone became disconnected. Thursday's attempt was foiled by the IMU issue.

Watch this page for updates during Saturday morning's countdown and launch.

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

Officials have given approval to launch the Titan 2 rocket on Saturday at 1617 GMT (9:17 a.m. local time; 12:17 p.m. EDT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The Inertial Measurement Unit concern has been put to rest after a thorough analysis of its performance, clearing the way for tomorrow's launch attempt.

1730 GMT (1:30 p.m. EDT)

The weather forecast for Saturday's possible launch attempt has improved to an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions. Launch Weather Officer Lt. Breea Lemm reported today that winds during tower rollback and launch time are the only concerns.

"The models stayed fairly consistent overnight, with the Great Basin High the dominant feature for Saturday's weather. The ridge of the high extends into the LA Basin, pushing the upper-level moisture up over the ridge and keeping skies over SLC-4W mostly clear, with some cirrus between 30,000 and 32,000 ft. At the surface, off shore flow will prevent marine layer formation, but radiational fog will decrease visibilities in the early morning hours. The surface gradient has slightly loosened from yesterday's run, winds are expected to be 8-12 kts from the southeast. Temperatures will be in the upper 50's to low 60's, with maximum upper level winds 35 knots from the southwest at 40,000 ft. No precipitation is expected to occur."

If the launch is delayed to Sunday, the forecast is even better with a 90 percent chance of good weather. Winds remain the only concern.

"Sunday's weather shows the upper-level ridge continuing to push its way into the region. Upper level moisture will continue to flow over the ridge and the cirrus layer will be scattered from 30,000 to 35,000 ft. Off shore flow at the surface will keep the marine layer at bay, with the thermal trough axis over SLC-4W pushing through from 12Z to 18Z. This trough passage will cause a wind shift from an easterly to northeasterly direction, from 5-10 kts. Upper level winds will be southwesterly, reaching a maximum of 30 knots near 35,000 feet. Temperatures will be in the upper 50's to low 60's, with no precipitation expected."

1550 GMT (11:50 a.m. EDT)

A quick-look at overnight data from the Titan 2 rocket's guidance computer is encouraging, officials said this morning. However, mission managers will meet later today to decide if the Inertial Measurement Unit is healthy to fly.

During Thursday's countdown, a component inside the IMU was drawing more current than expected. That caused officials to scrub the launch attempt so analysis could be performed before committing the $450 million mission for flight.

The Air Force says if the IMU has to be replaced, the launch will be postponed one-to-two weeks.

Read our earlier Mission Status Center coverage.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Titan 2 (G-9)
Payload: DMSP 5D-3-F16
Launch date: Oct. 18, 2003
Launch window: 1617-1627 GMT (12:17-12:27 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB, California
Satellite broadcast: none

Pre-launch briefing
Mission preview - Our story recapping the saga of the DMSP F16 satellite and the series of problems that have kept it grounded.

Titan 2 finale - Our story looking at the last Titan 2 rocket launch.

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

DMSP - General overview of the U.S. military weather satellite program.

Titan 2 - Description of the former ICBM missile converted to a space launch vehicle.

Titan 2 history - Chart with listing of previous Titan 2 SLV flights.


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