Spaceflight Now: Atlas launch report

Atlas soars into 2000

Posted: Jan. 21, 2000

The Atlas rumbles off its launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Photo: ILS
A Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket streaked into the Florida night sky Thursday, hurling a U.S. Air Force satellite into orbit to relay communications between military commanders and troops around the globe.

The $80 million rocket lifted off at 8:03 p.m. EST (0103 GMT on Friday) from Cape Canaveral Air Station's pad 36A. See our Mission Status Center for a chronicle of the launch.

The launch, the first to occur from planet Earth this year, was delayed 48 minutes due to a minor problem with ground support equipment that would have been used to remotely retract the pad's mobile service structure.

Officials had prepared for an unprecedented event during a real launch countdown -- fueling the rocket while still shielded by the mobile tower.

Normally the protective cocoon-like tower is rolled into the launch position about three hours prior to liftoff by engineers.

But since gusty ground winds were forecasted to be too strong for the tower to be removed on schedule, officials were ready to allow the countdown to continue and remove the tower by remote control once winds eased.

Bypassing the traditions of removing the tower before fueling preserves the chance of getting the Atlas airborne if conditions improve, a situation that could allow more launches in the fickle Florida weather.

With easing winds, the mobile service tower is rolled away from Atlas. Photo: Lockheed Martin TV/Spaceflight Now
But in the end, the winds subsided earlier than expected Thursday as a cold front swept through the Central Florida region, allowing the tower to be removed around the typical time.

Just over 26 minutes after a thundering liftoff, the $200 million Defense Satellite Communications System B8 spacecraft was released from the Atlas rocket's Centaur upper stage.

A series of critical milestones await the craft over the next few days including an orbit raising maneuver with its IABS onboard kick stage and deployment of the twin solar panels.

"It will be five days from launch before we're comfortable we have a good satellite in orbit," said Lt. Col. Terry Peterson, the Air Force's director of the DSCS space segment.

The Air Force in May will place the satellite into service to cover the Western Pacific Region.

The Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space-built satellite is the 11th DSCS-3 generation satellite launched. It is also the first of fourth remaining DSCS spacecraft that feature upgrades to improve performance.

The AC-138/DSCS B8 mission poster. Photo: ILS
The so-called Service Life Enhancement Program, or SLEP, gives the satellites more power, which in turn increases their communications relay capabilities for more users with smaller antennas.

The U.S. military relies on the DSCS fleet of five primary spacecraft to cover different parts of the globe for communications. DSCS provides super-high frequency, uninterrupted and secure voice and data communication.

The launch marked the 47th consecutive successful Atlas flight dating back to 1993.

"I can't think of a better way to start off the millennium than to continue a string of 46 successful Atlas launches," said Lt. Col. Tony Goins, the Air Force launch director.

The Atlas 2 family of rockets have a 100 percent mission success rate during 27 flights.

As many as a dozen more Atlas launches could occur in 2000. The next is planned for February 3 when an Atlas 2AS rocket will launch the Spanish Hispasat 1C communications satellite.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2A
Payload: DSCS B8
Launch date: Jan. 21, 2000
Launch window: 0015-0139 GMT (7:15-8:39 p.m. EST on 20th)
Launch site: SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla.

Photo gallery
Launch - Images of the final countdown and launch of the Atlas 2A rocket and DSCS B8 satellite.

Video vault
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket launches with DSCS B8 from the Cape.
  PLAY (514k QuickTime file)

The booster package is jettisoned from the base of the Atlas 2A rocket nearly three minutes into flight.
  PLAY (77k QuickTime file)

Animation of the DSCS satellite's early operations once in space.
  PLAY (183k QuickTime file)

Watch the sequence of events as the Atlas 2A rocket carries the U.S. Air Force's DSCS B8 satellite into orbit.
  PLAY (793k QuickTime file)

Pre-launch briefing
Atlas vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch DSCS B8 into space.

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

Launch windows - Available windows for future launch dates of AC-138.

DSCS B8 - Overview of the U.S. Air Force DSCS satellite program.

Atlas index - Listing of our previous Atlas coverage.

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

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

Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space - U.S. company that builds the DSCS satellites.

U.S. Air Force - Home page of the U.S. Air Force, which oversees the launch and DSCS fleet.

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

Sign up for Astronomy Now's NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed directly to your desktop (free of charge).

Your e-mail address: