Cape's next-to-last Titan 4 rocket moved to launch pad

Posted: October 6, 2003

The next-to-last Titan 4 rocket scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral was rolled to the pad Monday. Photo: LFCB/Blue Sawtooth Studio
With a pair of Air Force locomotives pushing the way, Cape Canaveral's penultimate Titan 4 rocket was rolled from its assembly building to the launch pad Monday where it will undergo four months of work before hauling a missile-warning satellite into space.

Standing about 120 feet tall on its mobile launching platform, the "headless" rocket was backed out of the Solid Motor Assembly and Readiness Facility, or SMARF, for the one-mile trek to the Complex 40 pad.

The move represented a key milestone in preparing the Lockheed Martin-built rocket for its U.S. national security mission. But with just two Titan 4 launches remaining at the Florida spaceport, the moment reminded everyone that the heavy-lifting rocket's era is nearing an end.

"This is a very cool day and ever more significant because it is going to be one of the last times...that we move one out," said Col. Jimmy Comfort, commander of the 3rd Space Launch Squadron at Cape Canaveral.

Air Force officials and the news media watch Monday's Titan 4 move to the launch pad. Photo: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
The Air Force invited news organizations to watch the rollout, giving reporters and photographers an up-close look at the towering rocket comprised of a two-stage central core vehicle sandwiched between two solid-fueled boosters.

After arriving at the Cape in May 2002, the core stages were erected on the launch platform in the Vertical Integration Building. The locomotives, which stay in synch with each other thanks to a 15-foot interconnecting control boom, moved the platform to the SMARF where the solid boosters were added.

In the coming months at the pad, a Boeing-made Inertial Upper Stage -- the last one slated to fly -- and the Defense Support Program-22 spacecraft cargo will be mounted atop the Titan 4 rocket.

"It may look mostly complete now, but there is still a lot of build up that we do on the pad," said Col. Comfort.

The IUS upper stage motor, which propels the satellite from the low-Earth orbit achieved by the Titan 4's core stages to geostationary orbit, will go to the pad in November. DSP-22 will be fueled and then transported to the pad in mid-December to be attached with the launcher.

The 56-foot long nose cone is then installed to encapsulate the $250 million satellite for ascent.

The Titan 4 rocket rides to the launch pad. The processing facility currently housing the Inertial Upper Stage and DSP spacecraft is seen in the background. Photo: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
Officials are targeting February 14 for the launch, which will mark the next-to-last Titan 4 rocket to fly from Florida's East Coast.

"Things are going very well. We are right on schedule," Col. Comfort said.

Built by Northrop Grumman, formerly TRW, the DSP-22 is destined to orbit 22,300 miles above the equator to detect enemy missile launches and nuclear detonations on Earth. The spacecraft features a sophisticated infrared telescope that sees the heat from missile and booster exhaust plumes against the Earth's background.

The satellite arrived at the Cape in mid-August to begin its pre-launch campaign inside a building neighboring the SMARF. The craft and its sensors are currently being checked out by Northrop Grumman and Aerojet technicians.

"So far, so good," said Maj. Joe Coniglio, chief of launch operations for DSP.

"We've got two separate crews responsible for each of their piece of the pie, both working together in integrated system testing to check out all systems."

The Titan 4 rocket heads for its launch pad at Complex 40. Photo: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
Twenty-five Titan 4 rockets have flown from the Cape since June 1989. The era draws to a close next October when the Titan 4 B-30 mission -- with no upper stage -- lifts off carrying a National Reconnaissance Office cargo. That rocket just arrived at the launch site aboard a C-5 aircraft, Col. Comfort said.

The final Titan 4 mission is scheduled for February 2005 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, also loaded with a classified NRO spacecraft. It will mark the 12th Titan 4 launched from the West Coast.

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