Spaceflight Now: Titan 4 Launch Report

Titan 4B launch vehicle
Posted: August 15, 2000

A Titan 4B rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The Air Force Titan IVB launch vehicle is the nation's largest, most powerful expendable space launch vehicle and provides access to space for the United States government's largest payloads. In 1989, a follow-on procurement to the existing Titan IV space lift vehicle resulted in the Titan IVB model. The upgraded rocket incorporates significant technology advancements to decrease operational processing time and increase overall reliability. The Titan IV is capable of placing 47,800 pounds into low-Earth orbit or more than 12,700 pounds into geosynchronous orbit - 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator.

The Titan IVB consists of two solid-propellant stage "0" motors, a liquid propellant two-stage core and a 16.7-foot-diameter payload fairing. Upgraded three-segment solid rocket motors increase the vehicle's payload capability by approximately 25 percent over the Titan IVA.

During a Titan IV launch the strap-on solid rocket motors are fired first. When the solid propellant is almost depleted (approximately 130 seconds into flight), the first stage is fired and the solid motors are separated from the vehicle. The second stage and upper stage are fired as the previous stage is depleted of fuel and separated.

The Titan family of launch vehicles was established in December 1955 when the Air Force awarded the Martin Company (today Lockheed Martin Astronautics) a contract to build an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile that would be more advanced than the Atlas. It became known as the Titan I, the nation's first two-stage ICBM. The Titan I rocket provided many structural and propulsion techniques that were later incorporated into the Titan II which became the first underground silo-based ICBM in 1964.

Martin Company and the Martin Marietta Corporation built more than 140 Titan ICBMs - the vanguard of America's nuclear deterrent force for 23 years. NASA selected the Titan II as a space launch vehicle for the Gemini manned space program in 1961. Deactivation of the Titan II ICBM system began in July 1982, and the last missile was taken from its silo at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, on June 23, 1987. The Titan II space launch vehicle that flew 12 Project Gemini missions evolved into the Titan III and Titan IIIC in the mid 1960s. Titan IIIs sent 82 military and civilian satellites into orbit between 1965 and 1982. Titan IIIE rockets with Centaur upper stages carried Viking and Voyager missions into space. The larger Titan expendable space launch vehicle was originally developed as a backup for the space shuttle in the 1980s, but has become a mainstay for heavy payloads. The Titan IVB represents significant improvements from the Titan 34D and Titan IVA from which it evolved. The first Titan IVB flew February 23, 1997.

The Vehicle
The Titan IVB's launch vehicle core consists of an LR87-AJ-11 Stage I liquid-propellant rocket that features structurally independent tanks for its hypergolic fuel of Aerozine 50 (hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethyl-hydrazine) and oxidizer (Nitrogen Tetroxide). This minimizes the hazard of the two mixing if a leak should develop in either tank. Additionally the engines' propellant can be stored in a launch-ready state for extended periods. The use of propellants stored at normal temperature and pressure eliminates delays and gives the Titan IVB the capability to meet critical launch windows. The second stage consists of an LR91-AJ-11 Stage II liquid propellant rocket engine attached to an airframe, like stage 1.

Operational Improvements
The Titan IVB uses a "clean vehicle" approach for delivering hardware to the launch sites. This method shifts production-oriented tasks, such as liquid rocket engine installation and electronic system installation, to the factory. When the rocket is shipped to the launch site it requires only check-out testing and a minimum of final processing.

Assembly and integration of the Solid Rocket Motor Upgrade occurs in the new Solid Motor Assembly and Readiness Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Station and the Solid Motor Processing Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. These facilities reduce workload from two shifts per day to a single shift and decrease Titan IVB booster overall processing time by 43 days at Cape Canaveral AS and 134 days at Vandenberg AFB.

Standard Vehicle Configuration
The Titan IVB common core design provides a standard mechanical and electrical configuration to the various upper stages and payloads. With this feature, all Titan IVB vehicles are identical up to the interface just below the payload fairing. The Titan IVB standard vehicle design allows hardware to be quickly reallocated to different missions as launch dates or national priorities are changed. It also eliminates the need for unique engineering and specialized processes for each individual core vehicle.

Solid Rocket Motor Upgrade (SRMU)
The new SRMU provides increased payload capacity and improved safety, reliability, and launch site operability, while reducing cost per pound of payload. The SRMU features a three-segment design. Light-weight graphite composite cases coupled with the use of high performance propellant results in a 25 percent increase in lift capability. The number of critical field joints has been reduced from eight on a Titan IVA to two on the Titan IVB, with each field joint having redundant seals. Five full-scale static test firings qualified the motor design in 1993.

Advanced Avionics
Obsolete technology and unprocurable hardware necessitated upgrades to the Titan IV's electrical systems. The new systems on the Titan IVB were designed to improve overall reliability and maintainability. Guidance system technology advancements include ring laser gyros and a new computer that doubles data processing capability. The system is packaged in a single guidance control unit which weighs 40 pounds less than its Titan IVA equivalent. By using modern parts and manufacturing techniques, the recurring cost of the guidance system has been decreased by more than 50 percent. A new data distribution and acquisition system provides higher data rates and more accurate telemetry for systems evaluation. The upgraded wide-band telemetry system has improved capability for additional launch vehicle and payload environment data.

Range Safety Improvements
The Titan IVB procurement also provided an opportunity to bring the Flight Termination System (FTS) into a configuration that meets the latest range safety requirements. The Titan IVB automatic and command destruct systems are completely redundant. The system was streamlined by combining multiple functions in a new flight termination controller.

Programmable Aerospace Ground Equipment (PAGE)
Titan IVB pre-launch vehicle check-out and launch countdown are controlled by a new automated ground processing system, called Programmable Aerospace Ground Equipment (PAGE). During the countdown, PAGE controls vehicle processing, continuously monitoring vehicle systems status and trends. In the event of a vehicle or ground system malfunction, PAGE can hold or abort the launch process up to ignition of the solid rocket motors. The new PAGE system will eliminate obsolete hardware and resolve maintenance problems with the existing system.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Titan 4B (B-28)
Payload: Classified NRO cargo
Launch date: August 16, 2000
Launch time: 2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-4E, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

Video vault
What is believed to be a Lacrosse radar imaging spy satellite is seen in a Lockheed Martin clean room in 1998. This could be the same craft being launched.
  PLAY (157k, 19sec QuickTime file)
From our history archives is the October 1997 launch of a Titan 4 rocket with the third Lacrosse radar imaging satellite for the NRO.
  PLAY (214k, 24sec QuickTime file)
Look back into our history file and watch a U.S. Air Force Titan 4 rocket lift off in daylight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
  PLAY (201k, 22sec QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

Pre-launch briefing
Launch preview - Read our story for a complete preview of the Titan 4 launch.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.