SAN DIEGO, June 11, 1998 – A Lockheed Martin Atlas IIIA rocket has been selected by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to launch a classified payload from Cape Canaveral Air Station (CCAS), Fla. The launch date will be selected based on the NRO’s operational requirements.
In a commercial bidding process open to U.S. launch services providers, the NRO selected the Atlas IIIA in the first direct competition between the Atlas IIIA and Boeing’s new Delta III.
“We are pleased that the NRO has selected Atlas for this important launch,” said Dr. Raymond S. Colladay, president of Lockheed Martin Astronautics. “We are proud to continue our long history of supporting the NRO in its vital work defending our nation.
Charles H. Lloyd, president of International Launch Services (ILS), added, “In an increasingly competitive launch services marketplace, we believe that this significant contract award affirms industry confidence in the newest member of the reliable Atlas family of launch vehicles.”
Lockheed Martin Astronautics designs and builds the Atlas space launch vehicles. ILS markets Atlas to the worldwide satellite launch market. Atlas now has a backlog of 24 launch commitments through the year 2001 and has launched a total of 47 satellites since the rocket was first offered as a commercial launcher in the 1980s.
Atlas IIIA is proceeding through development and will achieve initial launch capability late this year. First launch of the Atlas IIIA is planned for early 1999. The first Atlas IIIA began final assembly in mid-March at Astronautics’ facilities near Denver, CO.
The defining characteristic of Atlas III vehicles is the use of the Russian RD-180 engine to power the Atlas booster. Atlas IIIA also uses a single Pratt & Whitney RL-10A engine to power the Centaur upper stage and is capable of lifting payloads weighing up to 9,200 pounds (4,174 kg) to geostationary transfer orbit.
The RD-180 is currently undergoing extensive testing at NPO Energomash facilities in Khimky, Russia, where nine engines have been successfully test fired for a total of more than 9,000 seconds. This is the equivalent of more than 48 Atlas IIIA flights when compared to the 186 seconds the engine would operate during a typical Atlas mission.
Later this month, a prototype Atlas III booster stage, including an RD-180 engine, will be fired on a test stand at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. This will be the first Russian-built rocket engine to be test fired at a U.S. government facility.
The next launch of an Atlas — an Atlas IIAS — is scheduled for June 18, carrying the Intelsat 805 spacecraft.
Atlas is marketed by International Launch Services (ILS), a joint venture company established in 1995 to jointly market the Russian Proton and the Lockheed Martin Astronautics-built Atlas to the worldwide satellite launch market.
Atlas and the Centaur upper stage are built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics at facilities in Denver, CO; Harlingen, TX; and San Diego, CA. Astronautics is one of the operating elements of Lockheed Martin’s Space & Strategic Missiles Sector headquartered in Bethesda, MD. Astronautics designs, develops, tests and manufactures a variety of advanced technology systems for space and defense. Chief products include interplanetary spacecraft and other space systems, space launch systems and ground systems.