CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Dec. 4, 2002 – An Atlas IIA rocket placed a NASA satellite into orbit tonight, continuing a winning streak of 63 successful Atlas launches for builder Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and International Launch Services (ILS).
The Atlas IIA rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral's Pad 36A at 9:42 p.m. Half an hour later, it released the Tracking and Data Relay System Satellite-J (TDRS-J) into a transfer orbit. After a series of orbital maneuvers and tests, TDRS-J will be renamed TDRS-10, providing a communications with NASA spacecraft and ground stations, as well as tracking launch vehicles such as the Atlas.
Tonight's launch vehicle was the 23rd in the Atlas IIA series, the first of which flew in June 1992. All have been successful, as were the predecessor Atlas II series, and the current Atlas IIAS, Atlas III and Atlas V lines. This mission, designated AC-144, was the 63rd success in a row for Atlas. The Atlas family of vehicles is produced by Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co.
"We're pleased to have Atlas deliver this important link for NASA's space-based communications system," said ILS President Mark Albrecht. "This was the 11th satellite launched for NASA under the commercial Atlas program, and we look forward to continuing our successful relationship."
This was the third and final satellite in the current TDRS series, and all three were launched by Atlas. Previous TDRS series were launched on the Space Shuttle. ILS' customer for this launch was NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The satellite end user is NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Tonight's launch vehicle was one of four Atlas family configurations launched in 2002 for government and commercial customers worldwide. The others are Atlas IIAS, Atlas III and Atlas V.
Atlas began as the first U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). At the same time Atlas was being developed as an ICBM, the Air Force began supplying the vehicles to NASA for space applications. In 1958, the first communication from space was broadcast from an orbiting Atlas with a recorded Christmas message from then-President Eisenhower. Atlas went on to become a workhorse in the U.S. space program, launching numerous government, military and civilian payloads.
The commercial launch services program for Atlas was initiated in June 1987, and the first commercial launch was accomplished in July 1990. The first Atlas II version flew in December 1991, followed by the Atlas IIA in June 1992. Then came Atlas IIAS in December 1993; Atlas III in May 2000; and Atlas V this past August. All of these inaugural flights were successful.
ILS, based in McLean, Va., is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. 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.
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. The three-stage Proton and its 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.