Spaceflight Now: Atlas launch report

Atlas rocket delivers U.S. government satellite aloft

Posted: October 19, 2000

A collection of images from the launch. Photos: Lockheed Martin TV/Spaceflight Now
A $200 million satellite that will relay sensitive U.S. national security communications between the president, military and diplomats was rocketed into orbit Thursday night by a Lockheed Martin Atlas booster.

Liftoff occurred at 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT Friday) from pad 36A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after a 64-minute delay due to a handful of last-minute troubles.

Engineers had to work through a couple of issues involving a launch pad umbilical arm, the master data file that inadvertently indicated the wrong size of the rocket's nose cone, a communications glitch with a downrange tracking station and a barge that strayed into the launch danger area in the Atlantic Ocean.

With 15 minutes left in the evening's available launch window, the $80 million rocket fired to life and vaulted into space on a 26-minute trip to place the Defense Satellite Communications System B11 spacecraft into the planned geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Data indicated the rocket performed as expected and the orbit achieved was nearly a bull's eye on the pre-flight predictions.

The DSCS satellite will fire its Integrated Apogee Boost Subsystem, or IABS, attached kick stage on Saturday to nearly reach geostationary orbit. A trim burn will place the craft into its final orbit on Monday some 22,300 miles above the equator. Deployment of its power-generating solar arrays will follow.

Air Force ground controllers plan to conduct several months of testing and maneuvering to the intended parking slot over the Earth before pressing the craft into service in mid-March over the Eastern Atlantic, Lt. Col. Terry Peterson said in an interview earlier this week.

DSCS satellites are crucial to providing secure, jam-resistant high-data rate communications for the U.S. government. They provide everything from voice, video, fax, e-mail and even Internet connection for users whether it be on the ground, in the air or at sea.

The White House, U.S. embassies around the globe and military personnel from Pentagon leaders down to troops in the battlefield rely on the orbiting satellites as a way to communicate.

The DSCS system features 10 spacecraft separated into groups of five primary and five reserve satellites to cover the entire planet. DSCS B11 was launched as part of a shuffling scheme to replace a 15-year old sister-satellite deployed from space shuttle Atlantis' maiden flight in 1985.

As that spacecraft is retired from service in the DSCS constellation's backup fleet, another DSCS will be moved from its current position in the primary group to fill the vacancy once created. The new B11 satellite will join the primary fleet when commissioned next spring.

An artist's concept of a DSCS satellite being boosted by the IABS. Photo: U.S. Air Force
DSCS B11 is the 12th in the current third-generation series of DSCS satellites. One has already been retired. Two more of the Lockheed Martin-built craft are awaiting launch over the next three years.

Thursday's success was the 53rd straight time an Atlas rocket has done its job over the past seven years. The mission was managed under the auspices of International Launch Services -- a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Russian aerospace firms Khrunichev and Energia to globally market the Atlas and Proton rockets.

The eighth and final Atlas launch of 2000 is scheduled for the evening of December 4 when a classified cargo will be hauled into space for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Video vault
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral with the DSCS B11 spacecraft.
  PLAY (254k, 36sec QuickTime file)

The bottom engine structure is separated from the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket nearly three minutes into flight.
  PLAY (103k, 14sec QuickTime file)

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

Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2A (AC-140)
Payload: DSCS B11
Launch date: Oct. 19 2000
Launch window: 2336-0055 GMT (7:36-8:55 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Pre-launch briefing
Launch preview - Read our story for a complete preview of the DSCS B11 launch.

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

Atlas 2A vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch DSCS B11 into space.

DSCS - Description of the satellite to be launched on AC-140.

Launch windows - Listing of the available opportunities to launch in coming days.

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