Satellite cargo and Atlas 5 rocket joined together

Posted: August 8, 2002;
Updated: August 9 with confirmation of payload mating

Encapsulated in the rocket's nose cone, the Hot Bird 6 spacecraft is lifted into the Vertical Integration Facility Friday morning for mating to the Atlas 5 rocket. The lightning protection towers around the open-air launch pad can be seen in the distance. Photo: Lockheed Martin
Very early Friday morning, the European Hot Bird 6 TV broadcasting satellite departed its processing facility near Titusville for the ride across Cape Canaveral to Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 vehicle assembly building at Complex 41.

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.

A full view of the Atlas 5 rocket atop its mobile launch platform in the Vertical Integration Facility during the joining of the payload on Friday. Photo: Lockheed Martin
"We're ready for it to happen," John Karas, Lockheed Martin's vice president for Atlas 5 development, said in an interview.

"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.

The payload is lowered into position for attachment to the Atlas 5 rocket. Photo: Lockheed Martin
"In reality, I think we can all pass the mirror check. You stare at yourself in the mirror and you go 'man, I've done everything that I can think of and more, and more than we've usually done in the past.' It is always with guarded optimism, but it is getting exciting."

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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