Satellite cargo and Atlas 5 rocket joined together
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: August 8, 2002;
Updated: August 9 with confirmation of payload mating
Already loaded with its supply of fuel and enclosed within the rocket's nose cone, the spacecraft was then hoisted atop the Atlas 5 and attached to the Centaur upper stage.
The joining of the rocket with its paying cargo, which was completed by mid-morning, marks a significant milestone in advance of the inaugural Atlas 5 launch. Liftoff remains set for August 21.
Engineers plan to conduct the Integrated Systems Test next Tuesday to verify the combined rocket and satellite stack is ready to launch. The test is considered the last major event before the rocket is rolled from the assembly building to the open-air launch pad on August 20.
With less than two weeks left until liftoff, officials said Thursday the Atlas 5 is ready for its crucial debut.
"When the spacecraft tanked, it was getting exciting, our batteries are activated and it's getting more exciting, and the payload will mate and it'll get more exciting."
Lockheed Martin's director of Atlas launch operations at the Cape, Adrian Laffitte, says he's ready to put Atlas 5 to the test.
"It's sort of like cramming for finals. You study so hard for the final. You say just give me the final. I can do this test. I don't want to study anymore."
"We have worked really hard to get to this phase," Karas added. "Right now, we are at the really perfect pace. So that makes you feel more comfortable, but you know, until you get to orbit you are always wondering is there something else we could have done.
Atlas 5 is a family of new rockets designed to carry a wide range of payloads for commercial and government customers. The vehicle is evolved from the fully successful Atlas 2 and 3 series of rockets.
The Atlas 5 and Boeing's Delta 4 were created from the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program aimed at reducing launch costs and boosting reliability over existing American rockets.
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