CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Feb. 21, 2002 – The second flight of the Atlas III rocket lifted off at 7:43 a.m. EST today and successfully delivered its EchoStar satellite payload into orbit, kicking off a busy year for International Launch Services (ILS).
The rocket carried the EchoStar VII direct-broadcast satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit, marking the 59th consecutive successful flight for the Atlas family. The Atlas III is part of the next generation of launch vehicles being offered by ILS, based in McLean, Va. This Atlas IIIB vehicle, designated AC-204, is also the sixth variant in the Atlas line. All Atlas variants have had successful inaugural flights, and those missions all have carried commercial customers.
Both the Atlas vehicle and the A2100 satellite were built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. – the rocket by Astronautics Operations of Denver, Colo., and the spacecraft by Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa. ILS is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) and two Russian companies, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and RSC Energia. ILS markets and manages the missions for the Atlas and the Russian Proton launch vehicles.
"We have demonstrated what we have been saying all along – Atlas is the most reliable vehicle," said ILS President Mark Albrecht. "Each Atlas variant is evolved from our heritage systems, with strategic improvements to boost performance. Having flown two Atlas III vehicles successfully, we are excited about the debut of Atlas V in a few months. The 100 percent reliability of the Atlas line provides ILS with a strong competitive edge."
The Atlas III is a planned progression from the 100-percent-successful Atlas II series. It also introduced technologies that will be used on the Atlas V, which Lockheed Martin developed for both commercial missions and the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.
The Atlas III builds upon the pressure-stabilized booster design of the Atlas II, but uses the Russian RD-180 main engine with variable thrust control. The Atlas V also uses the RD-180, with a newly developed structurally stabilized Common Core Booster. Up to five solid rocket boosters can be strapped on for additional lift capability.
All Atlas vehicles use a Centaur upper stage, with one or two Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engines. The Atlas IIIB was the debut of the stretched Centaur stage – 5.5 feet longer – which also will be used on Atlas V.
Today's mission culminates the first of three campaigns concurrently under way at Cape Canaveral. As AC-204 left Pad 36B, an Atlas IIA rocket was standing on the adjacent Pad A. In about two weeks it is scheduled to launch a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite for NASA. Meanwhile, at Pad 41, an Atlas V vehicle is awaiting its inaugural launch this spring carrying Eutelsat's HOT BIRD 6 satellite.
ILS' other vehicle, the Russian Proton, also has several missions scheduled. The first two satellites slated for launch are Intelsat's 903 and DIRECTV-5.
ILS offers the broadest range of launch services in the world along with products with the highest reliability in the industry. ILS' Atlas rockets and their Centaur upper stages are built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company-Astronautics Operations at facilities in Denver; Harlingen, Texas; and San Diego, Calif. The three-stage Proton and the Breeze M upper stage are assembled by Khrunichev at its plant near Moscow. The alternative Block DM upper stage is built by Energia, also near Moscow.