Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Lockheed Martin building Atlas 5 rocket launch site

Posted: March 6, 2000

  Final beam
The final beam, covered with signatures, an American flag and evergreen tree, is positioned atop the Vertical Integration Facility high above Cape Canaveral. Photo: Lockheed Martin
Amid an outpouring of fanfare and celebration, the ceremonial last metal beam was hoisted atop Lockheed Martin's new Atlas 5 rocket assembly building on Friday at Cape Canaveral.

During the so-called "topping off" event, construction workers and managers alike signed the girder before it was raised into place atop the 300-foot tall Vertical Integration Building at Space Launch Complex 41.

Lockheed Martin is spending $300 million to build a futuristic launch pad for its next generation Atlas 5 rocket family. The first launch is planned in early 2002.

The construction work was started about six months behind schedule because the former tenant of the pad, the Air Force Titan 4 rocket fleet, was delayed is departing the site. The final Titan rocket was launched last April after a multi-month grounding caused by the investigation of a mid-air explosion from the previous August.

"We have had a huge challenge," Adrian Laffitte, Lockheed Martin's Atlas program director, told workers during Friday's ceremony. "We started this project about six months behind schedule. We have had changes that have occurred like in every project, but somehow, we managed to get through it, and I think events like this help us work together as a team."

Towers toppled
The Titan rocket-era umbilical tower and mobile service structure are toppled at Space Launch Complex 41 last October. Photo: Air Force
The pad renovations began with thunderous explosions last October when the old umbilical tower and mobile service tower at SLC 41 were toppled to the ground. Workers spent the next few months cutting up the Titan rocket towers and hauling away the scraps.

The towers won't be needed by Atlas 5 rockets because of Lockheed Martin's "clean pad" concept.

Atlas 5 vehicles will be put together, satellite payloads attached and tested inside the new VIF.

About 16 hours prior to liftoff, the completed rocket will be rolled about 1,800 feet to the open-air pad atop a mobile launching platform. Just a short wait on the seaside pad means the towers of old aren't necessary.

Atlas 5 rockets will come in multiple versions with varying combinations of payload fairing sizes and numbers of upper stage engines and solid rocket boosters. The company, which jokingly refers to Atlas 5 as "dial-a-rocket", distinguishes vehicles by the 300, 400 and 500 series.

The first Atlas 5 rocket is slated for delivery to Cape Canaveral in August 2001. Pathfinder exercises will follow. The first rollout of an Atlas 5 to the pad will occur in January 2002 for testing.

Lockheed Martin is developing the Atlas 5 family of rockets under the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. EELV, which also includes Boeing's Delta 4 rocket fleet, will reduce the cost of launching government and commercial satellite payloads into space.

Atlas 5
Artist's concept of an Atlas 5 rocket sitting on the new SLC 41 at Cape Canaveral. The VIF is seen in background. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The Air Force has bought nine Atlas 5 rockets under a $649 million contract. Seven are scheduled to occur from Cape Canaveral and two from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

However, Lockheed Martin officials confirm they are in negotiations with the Air Force to restructure the EELV contact for better financial terms.

As part of that restructuring effort, the company has halted all work at Vandenberg to construct a new launch pad there. Workers toppled the mobile service tower at Vandenberg's SLC 3-West in January, which was originally planned to be the West Coast home of Atlas 5.

As part of the ongoing negotiations, the Vandenberg pad could be switched to the nearby SLC 3-East site that the company refurbished in the mid-90s for the Atlas 2 rocket.

Boeing, awarded 19 launches worth $1.38 billion under the same EELV contract, is pressing ahead with plans for a Delta 4 pad at Vandenberg's SLC 6.

The Air Force is expected to order its second round of EELV launches early next year, officials say.

Other coverage
Complex 41 demolished - Historic Cape Canaveral towers toppled for future Atlas 5.

Vandenberg pad toppled - Space Launch Complex-3 West prepared for possible use by Atlas 5.

Complex 41 video vault
Close up of the demolition of the 300-ft tall mobile service tower at launch complex 41.
  PLAY (289k file)

The twin towers at launch complex 41 topple over as explosives blast their base.
  PLAY (238k file)

Demolition experts watch the destruction of the mobile service tower and umbilical tower at launch complex 41.
  PLAY (293k file)

Lockheed Martin guests and employees watch the destruction of the launch towers at launch complex 41.
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Computer graphics depict the launch of an Atlas 5 booster from the new complex 41.
  PLAY (165k file)

Note: QuickTime software to view these files can be downloaded free for Windows and Macs.

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