CAPE CANAVERAL Air Station, Fla., Oct. 24, 1997 - A Lockheed Martin Astronautics Atlas IIA rocket successfully launched the sixth Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) III spacecraft this evening from Complex 36, Pad A, at Cape Canaveral Air Station (CCAS), FL. Liftoff occurred at 8:46 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Once in final orbit, the satellite will join the Air Force's third-generation space constellation and support globally distributed users in all branches of the Defense Department with secure voice and high-data rate communications. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin in Valley Forge, PA.
At nine flights, the series of launches for the U.S. Air Force's Medium Launch Vehicle II program, including DSCS, is one of the largest single-user launch service programs for Lockheed Martin's Atlas. The five prior DSCS III flights were also successful, starting with the first in February 1992. The Air Force has also signed up for four launches on Atlas IIAS starting in late 1999.
This mission also incorporated a small satellite experiment called Falcon Gold, which was built by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in cooperation with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, to test the Global Positioning System signal at altitudes above the GPS constellation. Falcon Gold will remain attached to the Centaur stage and receive and relay GPS signals until the on-board batteries expire. This is the first step in determining if navigation using GPS is possible for spacecraft above the GPS constellation altitude.
The Atlas IIA, designated AC-131 for the DSCS III mission, is capable of lifting payloads up to 6,760 lbs to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The Atlas II series, including the II, IIA and IIAS, has had 100 percent operational success since the introduction of each launch vehicle. AC-131 was the seventh successful Atlas launch of 1997 from CCAS and the thirty-fourth consecutive successful flight for Atlas overall.
Lockheed Martin has commitments for 25 Atlas launches through the 1990s, including 17 commercial and 8 Air Force missions. One more mission remains in the 1997 manifest, and nine launches are forecast for 1998.
Atlas and the Centaur upper stage are built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics at facilities in Denver, CO; Harlingen, TX; and San Diego, CA. Major suppliers to the Atlas program include Rocketdyne, a division of Boeing North American located in Canoga Park, CA, Atlas MA-5A engines; Pratt & Whitney, located in West Palm Beach, FL, Centaur upper stage RL-10 engines; and Honeywell Space Systems of Clearwater, FL, inertial navigation unit.
Astronautics is one of the operating units of the corporation's Space and Strategic Missiles Sector headquartered in Bethesda, MD. Launch operations are provided by Lockheed Martin Astronautics at Cape Canaveral Air Station, Complex 36. Customer interface and launch vehicle mission management are provided by International Launch Services, headquartered in San Diego, CA. ILS was formed in 1995 to jointly market commercial launch services on Atlas and the Russian-built Proton launch vehicles.