VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Sept. 8, 2001 - An Atlas IIAS rocket successfully lifted off today at 8:24 a.m. PDT (15:24 p.m. GMT) today from this West Coast launch site, releasing a national security payload into transfer orbit 66 minutes later.
The launch was provided by McLean, Va.-based International Launch Services (ILS), from Vandenberg Launch Complex 3E for the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Designated AC-160, this was the first Atlas Centaur mission launched for the national security community from the West Coast. Today's launch was the third Atlas mission this year, and the 57th consecutive successful Atlas flight. It also was ILS' fifth mission of 2001.
"It is a pleasure to work with the NRO Office of Space Launch on this important mission, and to bring this customer 100 percent Mission Success," said ILS President Mark Albrecht. "We look forward to continuing this relationship with upcoming NRO launches on the Atlas launch vehicle family, including Atlas IIAS, III and V."
Lockheed Martin Corp. builds the Atlas family of rockets. Today's vehicle, the Atlas IIAS, can lift 8,200 pounds to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The upgraded Atlas III can lift up to 9,920 pounds, and the next-generation Atlas V is available in a range of configurations to lift payloads up to 19,000 pounds.
The Atlas V family is designed both for ILS commercial missions and to meet the U.S. Air Force requirements for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The first vehicle in the Atlas V series, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, is being prepared at the Cape Canaveral, Fla., in preparation for its inaugural flight next May.
The Atlas V vehicle incorporates state-of-the-art designs, materials and processes, including the throttleable, Russian-built RD-180 engine, the first variable-thrust main engine to power a U.S. expendable launch vehicle.
The RD-180, and most of the other technologies for Atlas V, were flight-proven last year, during ILS' successful initial launch of the Atlas III rocket.
ILS is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin of the United States and Russian companies Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and RSC Energia. ILS provides launch services to customers worldwide, including technical, management and marketing expertise. The company is headquartered near Washington D.C.
Vandenberg is one of three launch sites available for ILS customers. The others are at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Fla., for U.S. government and commercial launches on Atlas, and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where ILS conducts commercial missions on the Russian Proton vehicle.
The Atlas rockets and their Centaur upper stages are built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company-Astronautics Operations at facilities in Denver, Colo.; Harlingen, Texas; and San Diego, Calif. ILS' three-stage Proton and the available Breeze M upper stage are produced by Khrunichev at its factory near Moscow. The available Block DM fourth stage is built by Energia, also near Moscow.