Spaceflight Now: Atlas launch report

Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket launches classified cargo

Posted: December 5, 2000

The Atlas 2AS rocket lifts off. Photo: ILS. SEE PHOTO GALLERY FOR MORE IMAGES
A satellite cargo hidden in a veil of secrecy was successfully transported into space by a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket on Tuesday evening during a widely watched launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral.

Following a countdown repeatedly stalled by minor snags, the two-and-a-half stage rocket fitted with four strap-on solid-fueled motors began its journey to space with liftoff at 9:47 p.m. EST (0247 GMT Wednesday) from pad 36A. The launch was delayed 93 minutes by a variety of technical issues and upper level winds.

But when all the problems were put the rest, countdown clocks finally resumed ticking from the T-minus 5 minute mark and steadily marched toward liftoff.

No concerns were reported during the 30-minute flight and the classified National Reconnaissance Office payload was deployed into a geosynchronous transfer orbit looping from a low point of 145.95 nautical miles, high point of 20,241 nautical miles and inclined 26.5 degrees to the equator. The orbit placement virtually matched the pre-flight predictions, officials said.

The success marked the 54th straight for an Atlas rocket, including the eighth of 2000.

The mission was managed by International Launch Services, a venture between the U.S. Lockheed Martin and Russian Khrunichev and Energia companies to globally market the Atlas and Proton rockets. This was the 14th and final launch for ILS this year, all of which were successful.

"We're very excited to have achieved a record of 14 consecutive successful launches for Proton and Atlas since the beginning of the year," said Mark Albrecht, ILS president. "This year's was the busiest manifest since ILS was created in 1995, and we're proud of our 100 percent success record.

"This has been an excellent year for ILS in terms of new business, as well," Albrecht continued. "We received more than $1 billion in additional orders, including 17 firm launches with 17 options for a mix of the full complement of ILS launch products including Proton, Proton M, Atlas 2AS, Atlas 3 and Atlas 5. Our backlog stands at more than $3 billion."

The Atlas' clandestine cargo launched tonight is a national security secret. The NRO won't discuss any details about the craft. However, most space expects agree it is most likely a data relay craft used to beam imagery and other intelligence information from U.S. spy satellites back to Earth.

Photo gallery
AC-157Spaceflight Now looks back to last Tuesday's flight of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket with a secret satellite cargo with a gallery of spectacular launch photographs.


Video vault
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral with a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
  PLAY (381k, 30sec QuickTime file)

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

Atlas 2AS vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch the classified NRO payload.

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

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

Great Bear
The special decal on the Atlas' nose cone. Learn more about the meaning of the "Great Bear" name given to this launch. Photo: NRO

Inside the blockhouse

Step inside the historic Complex 36 Blockhouse where the 120 members of the launch team control every countdown and liftoff of Atlas rockets from Cape Canaveral.
  VIEW (286k QuickTime file)