Next-generation Atlas 5 sailed 'perfect' first voyage

Posted: August 22, 2002

After a night of partying and jubilant celebrations, Lockheed Martin officials said Thursday that the first Atlas 5 rocket gave its paying cargo "a marvelous ride" into space following a remarkable on-time takeoff for the new launcher.

  Atlas 5
The Atlas 5 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral. Photo: Lockheed Martin
"We had a perfect mission," said John Karas, Lockheed Martin's vice president for Atlas 5 development. "We had a very nominal minus count, almost flawless. Anytime you get a brand new rocket off on the first day, at the opening of the window, the first shot at it, that speaks something to the crew and the hardware we have.

"After liftoff, the vehicle performed very well. We hit all the performance targets. The first-look data looked very good. So another great success for the team and the phased evolution of Atlas."

"They kinda almost made it look too easy yesterday," said Air Force Col. Susan Mashiko, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle systems program director. "What they managed to do was they set the bar. It is going to be something that is going to be tough for all the other launchers throughout the world to meet. You never have someone launch on the first day, with a smooth, essentially uneventful count and you launched at the first minute of the launch window."

The Air Force partnered with Lockheed Martin and Boeing four years ago to develop next-generation rockets that would ensure reliable and affordable access to space for government and commercial satellites through 2020. The teaming between the military and the rocket-making industry resulted in Atlas 5 and Boeing's Delta 4, which is scheduled to debut on October 9.

  Atlas 5
Atlas 5 atop the "clean pad" at Complex 41. Photo: Lockheed Martin
"Those of you who hear all the rhetoric that every program in space is broken, it's not. EELV is far from being broken. It should be, and is, the flagship program for how development is done in space and in the Air Force," Mashiko said.

For Lockheed Martin and Atlas marketer International Launch Services, the successful introduction of Atlas 5 was vital for the vehicle's future in the commercial spacecraft launch market. Today, that market has more competing rockets available than satellites.

"The more (customers) become familiar with what actually happened, the incredible confidence they are going to have in this vehicle," said ILS President Mark Albrecht. "I am very confident that the results are going to be new orders, in abundance."

"We worked hard to be first to market," said Karas. "I believe we threw down the gauntlet to our competitors. There are a couple other guys who will be launching new rockets in the next couple months -- both domestically and abroad."

In addition to Delta 4, Arianespace is scheduled to launch the first flight of its new, more powerful Ariane 5 upper stage this fall.

Wednesday's maiden voyage began at 6:05 p.m. EDT as the Russian-made RD-180 main engine fired to life at Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 launch pad. The 737,500-pound, 191-foot tall rocket ever so slowly climbed from its mobile launching platform into the clear Florida evening sky.

"We have a term for that, we call that 'majestic'," said Karas, joking about the slow-rising Atlas 5. "You can take a lot of shots with your camera before it clears the tower."

Atlas 5
The hefty rocket took over 10 seconds to clear the pad. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The rocket deployed the Hot Bird 6 TV broadcasting satellite into the proper orbit just over a half-hour into the flight.

"We are happy that our customer is exactly on-orbit where he wants to be," Karas said.

Built in France by Alcatel Space, the craft will be used by Paris-based operator Eutelsat to provide communications services across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East when it enters service by the end of September.

Eutelsat's Giuliano Berretta had this to say after the launch: "As broadcasting and video networks continue to provide the main source of demand in our industry, the requirement is increasing for an operator to provide clients with improved performance, more efficient use of bandwidth and greater in-orbit security. We believe that Hot Bird 6 brings the right mix of continuity and technological innovation to 13 degrees East that will continue to allow wider access to the satellite solutions for broadcasting notably for new video, multimedia and data applications.

"Thank you and congratulations to ILS for another flawless Atlas launch for Eutelsat, and for maintaining its consistently high levels of technical performance."

Hot Bird 6 marked the third time Eutelsat has put one of its satellites aboard an inaugural flight of an Atlas version. All have been successful.

Atlas 5 has 10 additional launches that have been announced and four more are possible, if customers opt to pick the new rocket over ILS' other vehicle -- the Russian Proton.

The next Atlas 5 mission -- designated AV-002 -- is currently scheduled for December 17 to place the Canadian Nimiq 2 communications satellite into space. The third Atlas 5 will feature the debut of a larger five-meter nose cone and two strap-on solid rocket motors to carry an American television relay satellite called Rainbow 1 for Cablevision on March 27.

Meanwhile, preparations are well underway at Cape Canaveral's launch pad 36A where an Atlas 2AS rocket is being readied for liftoff September 18 to loft the Spanish Hispasat 1D communications craft.

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Pre-launch briefing
Atlas 5 overview - Our story looking at a new era in American space rocketry.

Launch timeline - A preview of the events to occur during the first Atlas 5 launch.

The rocket - Technical story of the new Atlas 5 rocket family.

Complex 41 - A tour of the Atlas 5 launch site and description of the "clean pad" concept.

Dual ops - Current Atlas rocket models not going away for awhile.

Hot Bird 6 - Learn more about the satellite cargo for the first Atlas 5 launch.

The weather - A look at the challenges of forecasting the weather for Atlas 5.

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

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 5 (AV-001)
Payload: Hot Bird 6
Launch date: August 21, 2002
Launch window: 6:05-7:34 p.m. EDT (2205-2334 GMT)
Launch site: Complex 41, Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida
Satellite broadcast: Galaxy 3, Transponder 1, C-band