Spaceflight Now: Titan Launch Report

Success achieved during Titan 4 rocket launch

Posted: May 8, 2000

The Titan 4B rocket launches Monday from Cape Canaveral. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The U.S. military launched a new spy satellite on Monday to guard the nation's security by providing advance warning against impending enemy missile attacks.

A $400 million Air Force Titan 4B rocket lofted the $250 million Defense Support Program-20 satellite in a successful launch that originated at Complex 40 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The near-seven-hour launch began with a ground-shaking liftoff at 12:01 p.m. EDT (1601 GMT) for the Lockheed Martin-built Titan 4B -- the most powerful unmanned booster in the American arsenal. The mission was postponed from the scheduled 9:30 a.m. liftoff time due to several technical glitches.

The delays started overnight when work fell behind schedule to retract the massive mobile service tower away from the rocket at Complex 40. The operation was pushed back nearly two hours.

Workers at the pad also experienced a lengthy problem with an access door on the rocket's first stage. When the technicians attempted to bolt on the door for launch, it did not fit. Officials said the misalignment was probably caused by slight changes in the rocket's structure given temperature and other factors.

Door fix
Workers fix a troublesome access door on the side of the Titan 4B rocket during the countdown on Monday. Photo: USAF video/Spaceflight Now
After drilling the bolt holes slightly larger, the panel was attached, the rocket was armed and personnel cleared the launch pad.

Meanwhile, a problem developed in the backup communications relay link between the downrange tracking station on Antigua Island and the Cape. A workaround plan was implemented and the Range was ready to support the midday liftoff.

And so the mission began when the two Alliant Techsystems-built solid rocket boosters strapped to either side of the Titan 4B were ignited, producing 3.4 million pounds of thrust and sending the rocket thundering into the clear blue Florida sky.

Later, the two stages of the Titan's core vehicle each fired to place the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage kick motor and TRW-made DSP-20 satellite into a low-Earth orbit within the first nine minutes of launch.

The IUS and DSP duo coasted for just over an hour before the first stage of the solid-fueled upper stage was ignited to begin the journey toward geostationary orbit 22,300 miles high.

Following the relatively short first burn of the IUS, an extended cruise started that lasted until about 6 1/2 hours into the launch. Then the spent IUS first stage was jettisoned and the second stage was fired to deliver DSP into its intended orbital perch above the Earth's equator.

  IUS separation
Computer animation shows the IUS being released from the Titan 4B rocket's second stage. Photo: USAF video/Spaceflight Now
The IUS released the DSP craft just shy of seven hours after taking off from Florida, marking the first successful Titan 4 mission from the Cape since May 1998 and breaking a string of three straight failures.

"Today's launch was a wonderful team effort. The success of this mission is due to their hard work and commitment," Air Force Mission Director Col. Mike Dunn said Monday evening.

Added Thomas Marsh, president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company-Astronautics Operations, "Today's successful Titan 4 launch was extremely satisfying."

Controllers will put their new DSP satellite through a series of tests and checkouts before maneuvering the craft into the final orbit and pressing it into service in about one month, Air Force officials say.

DSP-20 will replace an older sister-spacecraft in the Pentagon's fleet of eye-in-the-sky spy satellites used to give the U.S. and its allies early notice of enemies' missile and space-based launches and nuclear detonations.

DSP art
An artist's concept of a Defense Support Program satellite in orbit. Photo: USAF
The first DSP satellite was launched 30 years ago to monitor the Soviet Union and China for land-launched missiles and the waters around the U.S. for submarine ballistic missiles.

DSP satellites feature a sophisticated infrared telescope that can spot the heat from missile and booster exhaust plumes against the Earth's background. They are parked in geostationary orbit, fixed over one region of the world: Europe, Asia or the West.

Despite the end of the Cold War, U.S. military officials say there is still a need for such intelligence-gathering satellites.

"Whereas we are not in the jaws of the Cold War anymore, in many ways the world is a much more dangerous place now than it ever was then," said Col. Scott Rounce, deputy program director for the Space Based Infrared Systems Program Office at the Air Force's Space and Missiles Systems Center.

"If we look at the world today it has the same threats that are out there as they existed during the Cold War," said Maj. Todd Ganger, deputy chief for missile warning at Air Force Space Command. "There are a few countries adding missile launch capability to their portfolio. We want to be able to not only defend ourselves, but pass that missile warning information on to other nations."

The 33-foot tall craft were used extensively during Desert Storm, expanding their utility by detecting missiles flown within the region of a conflict instead of the intercontinental ballistic missiles in which the satellites were designed to spot.

Throughout the Persian Gulf War, DSPs detected the launch of Iraqi Scud missiles and warned civilians and troops in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Three more DPS satellites are built and due to launch one per year in 2001, 2002 and 2003. The first two will be deployed aboard Titan 4 rockets; the last on an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.

The next Titan 4 launch is slated for July 17 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with a classified payload. Cape Canaveral's next Titan 4 is scheduled for late October to launch a Milstar-2 military communications satellite.

Video vault
The U.S. Air Force Titan 4B rocket launches with DSP-20 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
  PLAY (325k, 37sec QuickTime file)
An alternate view of the launch is provided by Spaceflight Now through the lense of our camera positioned at the Air Force press site on the NASA Causeway at Cape Canaveral.
  PLAY (395k, 47sec QuickTime file)
The twin solid rocket boosters are jettisoned from the U.S. Air Force Titan 4B rocket duirng launch.
  PLAY (240k, 29sec QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

Photo gallery
Launch - Images of the Titan 4B rocket from the countdown and launch.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Titan 4B/IUS (B-29)
Payload: DSP-20
Launch date: May 8, 2000
Launch window: 1330-1730 GMT (9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Launch pad tour

Explore the scene at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40 through Spaceflight Now's virtual reality camera during final preparations for the launch of the Titan 4 rocket and DSP-20 satellite.
  VIEW (247k 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.

Titan 4B vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch DSP-20 into space.

DSP - Description of the Defense Support Program satellite system.