First Greek satellite launch performed by Atlas 5 rocket
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: May 14, 2003
Tuesday's rocket launch from Cape Canaveral wasn't your every day satellite delivery mission. Sure, it had that unmistakable crackling roar and golden tail of fire. But the successful second flight of Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 rocket began with a history-making accomplishment and ended with Greece achieving its first presence in space.
After a short delay in the final minutes of the countdown to clear boats from the restricted waters off the coast, the Russian-made RD-180 main engine surged to life and propelled the 191-foot tall, 737,500-pound rocket skyward at 6:10 p.m. EDT (2210 GMT).
About 31 minutes later, the Hellas Sat communications spacecraft was deployed into the targeted supersynchronous transfer orbit that stretches from 200 miles at its closest point to Earth to over 53,000 miles at its farthest.
Greece and partner Cyprus have now fulfilled the goal of launching their first satellite after 10 years of work.
"Today, we are getting the capability of covering the telecommunications requirements of Greece and, of course, Cyprus, and getting into the club of 25 countries that are already in this family," said Manolis Stratakis, Greece's deputy minister of transportation and communications.
"We would like to take that as a stepping stone for future development and go further ahead," Stratakis continued.
"We count on this launch as a step forward in the development of our company, our country and the whole southeastern Europe area," added George Argyropoulos, chairman and CEO of Hellas Sat S.A. of Athens, Greece.
The Hellas Sat project cost $178 million, including the satellite, Atlas rocket and insurance.
Built in Europe by Astrium, the 7,165-pound Hellas Sat spacecraft is based on the Eurostar E2000+ satellite model. It carries 30 Ku-band transponders, which will be used by two fixed beams to serve Europe and two steerable beams for Africa and the Middle East.
Over the next 10 days, the satellite will fire an onboard engine to circularize its orbit at 22,300 miles above the equator. Controllers will position Hellas Sat at 39 degrees East longitude where it will match Earth's rotation and appear parked in the sky.
Hellas Sat will be used for video transmissions, direct-to-home television broadcasting, high-speed Internet connections and two-way broadband services.
The Hellas Sat operators also look forward to the satellite being used extensively during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
"The world's most reliable launch system has proven itself one more time," Mark Albrecht, president of Atlas marketer International Launch Services, said after the mission. "Congratulations to the Atlas team...you guys continue to make this look easy and we know it's hard."
Since the inaugural Atlas 5 launch last August, engineers have been working to reduce the amount of time the next-generation rocket spends on the pad.
The Atlas 5 rocket, which was developed as part of the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, uses a "clean pad" concept whereby the rocket stages and satellite cargo are assembled together in the Vertical Integration Facility atop a mobile platform. The completed rocket is then rolled to the pad, fueled and launched.
Last summer, the rocket was rolled out 33 hours before its maiden liftoff. But Lockheed Martin had the eventual goal of shrinking that time.
"We're really excited because of the fact that on our second Atlas 5, we were already able to achieve the goal that we established for ourselves to be able to roll and launch on the same day," said Adrian Laffitte, Lockheed Martin's director of Atlas operations at the Cape.
Other rockets in the world use assembly buildings and then roll to the pad. But Atlas officials are quick to point out that those other boosters spend more time on the pad.
The next Atlas launch is scheduled for the morning of July 17 from Cape Canaveral. The third Atlas 5 rocket will carry the Rainbow direct-to-home TV broadcasting satellite. The flight will introduce the Atlas 5's 500 series, which features a much larger nose cone that is built by the Swiss company Contraves, and new strap-on solid rocket boosters made by Aerojet.
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