Next-to-last Atlas 2AS rocket puts TV satellite in space
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: May 19, 2004
With its retirement looming on the horizon, Lockheed Martin's Atlas 2AS rocket kept its flawless success record alive and well Wednesday with the launch of a broadcasting satellite that will aid the expansion of high-definition TV programming across the United States.
The penultimate mission for the Atlas 2AS, the oldest and least powerful Atlas version in use, was delivery of the 5,108-pound AMC-11 spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Twenty-eight minutes into flight, the launch concluded with a successful deployment of the satellite while soaring above central Africa.
"The Atlas remains the gold standard in launch services today for commercial customers and the government," Mark Albrecht, president of Atlas marketing firm International Launch Services, said from the launch control center shortly after the mission.
The Atlas 2AS, fitted with four Thiokol-built strap-on solid rocket boosters that distinguishes it from other Atlas configurations, has been in service since 1993 with a 100 percent success rate during 29 launches.
The broader Atlas program continues to ride a remarkable string of consecutive successful launches that has reached 72 flights.
Dozens of television networks -- such as the Discovery channels, Lifetime Television, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, The Science Channel, Showtime, The Learning Channel, TV Land, VH-1 and The Weather Channel -- will be transmitted up to the satellite for relay to cable companies around the U.S. that feed the programming to 80 million homes.
"AMC-11 will be delivering some of America's leading cable programs, reaching almost every television household with all sorts of entertainment, information, and event programming, including high-definition services from Discovery, Showtime and NBC," said Dean Olmstead, president and CEO of AMC-11 operator SES AMERICOM.
AMC-11 was released from the rocket in a temporary orbit with a high point of 22,325 statute miles, low point of 116 miles and inclination of 12.4 degrees to the equator. In the coming days, the satellite will use its engine to circularize the orbit to 22,300 miles and lower the inclination to the equator.
Controllers will maneuver the satellite to 146 degrees West longitude along the equator for testing. Then AMC-11 will wait until after the seasonal eclipse period before drifting to its operational position at 131 degrees West.
"Post eclipse in October, we will start a drift and we will be on-station at 131 in early November, ready to do the traffic transition," said Dany Harel, SES AMERICOM vice president of space systems and operations.
That "traffic transition" is the swap of broadcasters from the aging Satcom C-3 satellite to the new AMC-11.
AMC-10 and -11 form what SES AMERICOM calls its "HD-PRIME" broadcasting system.
"This evening's launch was picture-perfect and we look forward to bringing AMC-11 into service in the fall and completing the development of HD-PRIME, the only two-satellite system dedicated to the delivery of high-definition services to cable head-ends," Olmstead said.
"We think HD is a big deal," added Bryan McGuirk, senior vice president of domestic satellite services and sales for SES AMERICOM. "There are more than 70 million cable households which can receive HD today....This is the fastest-growing segment in the subscription area.
"All of the cable satellite operators are looking to build HD channels. We're expecting at least a dozen more to launch in the next 12 months."
The Atlas crew at Cape Canaveral has no time to savor Wednesday's successful flight. The launch campaign for the 30th and last Atlas 2AS rocket is already underway.
That flight will represent the finale of the entire Atlas 2-series of vehicles (2, 2A and 2AS), which gave Lockheed Martin its foothold in the commercial satellite launch business.
"When we launch the last Atlas 2AS it will be like the graduation of the Atlas 2AS family, which has served us very well," launch director Adrian Laffitte said. "But it has also served as a stepping stone to the Atlas 5. So it is really a culmination of all the efforts that has led us into the future. That is the way I'm looking at it. Even though it is the final, it is also the celebration of what we have accomplished."
The transition series of Atlas 3 rockets, which built upon the Atlas 2 while also proving the Russian-made RD-180 main engine for use on Atlas 5, has one additional launch slated for next January from pad 36B. That is scheduled to be the final Atlas from Complex 36, capping several decades of history.
The future is the next-generation Atlas 5 family that features various configurations. Those rockets fly from Complex 41.
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