BY JUSTIN RAY
January 21, 2000 -- Read our description of the countdown and launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket and the U.S. Air Force's DSCS B8 communications satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.
0600 GMT (1:00 a.m. EST)
Read our launch story for a summary of the countdown and mission. Also be sure to check out our launch photo gallery and movies on the righthand side of this page.
This will conclude our Mission Status Center coverage of AC-138 and the DSCS B8 satellite launch.
0132 GMT (8:32 p.m. EST)
The DSCS B8 spacecraft will continue in this highly elliptical orbit until its IABS kick motor is fired on Saturday evening. The engine firing will circularize the orbit at geostationary altitude of about 22,300 miles high while decreasing the orbital inclination. On Monday and Tuesday, the satellite's solar arrays will be deployed, the sun and Earth will be acquired for spacecraft pointing and the power system will be actived to recharge onboard batteries. Over the coming two months the satellite will be placed over California coastline for complete on-orbit testing. Controllers will then move DSCS B8 into its operational position at 175 degrees East, beginning its service life in mid-May.
Check back later tonight for video and images of the countdown and launch.
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Reignition of the Centaur for its second of two burns to place DSCS B8 into transfer orbit will occur at T+plus 22 minutes, 17 seconds.
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In the next few seconds the inertial navigation unit's countdown will be started, the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked and the flight data recorders will be readied.
0102 GMT (8:02 p.m. EST)
In the past minute, the inertial navigation unit was launch enabled, liquid hydrogen tanking was secured, fuel tank pressures stable and the ignition enable switch was closed.
0101 GMT (8:01 p.m. EST)
Shortly, the rocket's inadventant separation destruct safety system will be armed, the Centaur upper stage will go to internal power and the flight termination system will be armed.
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The mission to place the DSCS B8 communications satellite into the proper geosynchronous transfer orbit will occur in a two-step fashion. About 10 minutes into the launch, the Centaur upper stage should achieve a parking orbit around the Earth. The nominal orbital parameters include a perigee altitude of 80 nautical miles, apogee altitude of 485 nautical miles and inclination of 29.3 degrees to the equator. The Centaur will later perform a second firing to boost the DSCS spacecraft into a transfer orbit at separation with a perigee of 123 nautical miles, apogee of 19,278 nautical miles and inclination of 26.5 degrees.
DSCS B8 will use its onboard kick motor to circularize its orbit at geostationary altitude and decrease the inclination.
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Also, the launch team reports the special test of the Flight Termination System is complete and results are acceptable.
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DSCS B8 is the first of fourth remaining DSCS spacecraft to be launched with the Service Life Enhancement Program, or SLEP, updgrades. The enhancements provide more power to the satellites and increase their communications relay capabilities.
The U.S. military relies on the DSCS fleet of five primary spacecraft to cover different parts of the globe for communications between commanders and troops in the field. DSCS provides super-high frequency, uninterrupted and secure voice and data communications.
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THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2000
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RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, was loaded aboard the Atlas stage last week.
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Overall, the weather picture is improving and there is an 80 percent chance of acceptable winds by the end of the launch window.
Meanwhile, checks have started with the C-band beacon used to track the rocket during launch and road blocks are being established at the launch complex.
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However, winds are expected to decrease after sunset tonight and Sardonia predicts there is a 70 or 80 percent chance of allowable winds for launch after 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT). Lockheed Martin has until 8:39 p.m. EST (0139 GMT) to launch the rocket tonight.
Also of note, officials are watching the upper level winds. The winds are upwards of 120 knots at 46,000 feet. Weather balloons are being launched to collect information during the remainder of the countdown.
Other than the winds, other weather conditions will be favorable with a temperature in the mid-60s F and clear skies. The weather reconnaissance aircraft will not be used tonight because clouds and rain will not be factors.
At launch pad 36A, the final alignment of the rocket's inertial navigation unit is starting and final pre-launch configuration of the DSCS B8 spacecraft atop the Atlas is complete.
1920 GMT (2:20 p.m. EST)
The Central Florida and Cape Canaveral Air Station is experiencing very strong winds today with the passage of a cold front. Those winds are expected to violate the safety rules that govern when the protective mobile service tower can be rolled away from the rocket at pad 36A. Previously, the Lockheed Martin launch would not fuel the Atlas and Centaur upper stage until after the tower was moved away about three hours prior to liftoff. But tonight officials will allow the tower to remain around the rocket while fueling occurs, preserving the opportunity to get the Atlas airborne if winds subside. The tower would then be rolled away from the rocket by remote control about 25 minutes before launch while the countdown is holding at T-minus 5 minutes.
Weather forecasters say the winds should gradually decrease as the day goes along, particularly tonight once the front passes through the Cape area after 4 p.m. EST.
There are three weather rules that will come into play. The first is the 41-knot limit needed to permit fueling of the rocket inside the tower. That rule should not be violated and fueling should begin shortly after 5:15 p.m. EST, allowing the countdown to continue. The second factor will be the tower retraction rule, which says winds must be below 32 knots. And for launch to actually occur, the winds cannot exceed 26 knots.
"We will look at tanking in the tower because looking at weather, that will give us the best opportunity for success," said Lt. Col. Tony Goins, the U.S. Air Force launch director. "We are going to posture ourselves to be successful this evening."
Lockheed Martin tested the tanking-in-the-tower concept last year, and conducted the countdown dress rehearsal for this launch in which the rocket was fueled without removing the MST. In addition, the countdown rehearsal on Tuesday repeated the test at nearby pad 36B for the Atlas being prepared for launch next month.
The aerospace company has completed a blast analysis, studies and reviewed the positions of cameras inside the tower to ensure safety during the fueling operations.
If the decision is made to proceed with the tanking-in-the-tower plan, officials could wait until about 8:10 p.m. EST (0110 GMT) for the winds to die down, said Adrianne Laffitte, Lockheed Martin's director of Atlas operations at Cape Canaveral.
It will take about 15 minutes to roll the tower back, followed by polling the launch team to ensure all other systems are go and to complete the final five minutes of the countdown, lifting off at or near the end of tonight's window.
Other than the weather, there are no other problems being worked with the rocket, DSCS B8 satellite or ground systems. The Range countdown has started and soon the U.S. Air Force 3rd Space Launch Squadron team will arrive on console to oversee the mission.
1630 GMT (11:30 a.m. EST)
Air Force launch weather Jim Sardonia gives this report this morning:
"A significant but dry cold front will move through CCAS at around 1600L this afternoon. Surface winds will be gusty all day today and especially between 1500L and 1800L. Cloud coverage will be minimal and no rainshowers or thunderstorms are expected. The upper-level wind profile shows a persistent profile to 41,000 feet where the max winds are 120 knots. The main concern today will be the peak winds at SLC 36A gusting above the 26 knot launch constraint after frontal passage."
The latest launch time forecast calls for cumulus clouds scattered at 3,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles or better, northwesterly winds 20 gusting to 30 knots at the 90-foot level of pad, a temperature of 59 to 61 degrees F and relative humidity of 70 percent.
Overall, there is a 70 percent chance of weather rule violation due to the ground winds.
Weather does improve to near-perfect conditions if the launch is delayed 24 hours.
At launch pad 36A, the rocket is being powered up and the countdown clocks are beginning tick toward liftoff.
We will next update later this afternoon following the pre-launch press briefing.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2000
Check back Thursday for comprehensive live coverage of the final countdown and launch.
1545 GMT (10:45 a.m. EST)
Air Force launch weather Jim Sardonia gives this update:
"Computer models are now converging on a solution in moving a significant cold front through CCAS just prior to the opening of the launch window Thursday night. Surface winds will be gusty along and behind this front and there will be a slight increase in the chance of scattered rainshowers over CCAS during frontal passage. Rainshowers will be few and no thunderstorms are expected, however thick cloud bands associated with the cold front will likely violate the triggered lightning launch commit criteria (rules). The main concern on launch day will be the peak winds at SLC 36A gusting above the 26 knot launch constraint after frontal passage. Secondary concerns include thick layered clouds and the proximity to building cumulus clouds and rainshowers along the frontal boundary."
The launch time forecast calls for cumulus clouds scattered at 3,000 feet, altocumulus clouds scattered at 12,000 feet and broken cirrostratus clouds at 25,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles or better, northwesterly winds 18 gusting to 28 knots at the 90-foot level of pad, a temperature of 59 to 61 degrees F, relative humidity of 70 percent and widely afternoon rainshowers during frontal passage.
Overall, there is a 70 percent chance of strong ground winds, thick layered clouds and nearby cumulus clouds will keep the Atlas rocket on Earth.
If the launch is postponed 24 hours, the forecast improves to 90 percent chance of good conditions with the only concern being ground winds. For a 48-hour delay, the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather with the concern being cumulus clouds.
At Cape Canaveral today officials are holding the final readiness reviews to give the approval for launch.
We will provide the next update late this afternoon, Eastern Time, with results from the Flight Readiness Review.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2000
Liftoff from pad 36A at Cape Canaveral Air Station is planned to occur on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. EST (0015 GMT Friday), the opening of an 84-minute window.
The weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions due to concerns over cumulus clouds, rainshowers and gusty winds. Air Force launch weather Jim Sardonia gives this overview:
"A weak cold front from the Tennessee valley is now not expected to move into Florida until Thursday afternoon. This will increase the surface winds and increase the chance of scattered rainshowers along the frontal boundary as it passes over CCAS during the launch countdown. Confidence is low however, in the accuracy of the computer models, so expect changes in the launch forecast. The main concerns on launch day include the possibility of peak winds at pad 36A approaching the 26 knot launch constraint and the proximity to building cumulus clouds and rainshowers along the frontal boundary."
The launch time forecast calls for cumulus clouds scattered at 3,000 feet, altocumulus clouds scattered at 12,000 feet and broken cirrostratus clouds at 25,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles or better, northwesterly winds 15 gusting to 25 knots at the 90-foot level of pad, a temperature of 60 to 62 degrees F, relative humidity of 75 percent and widely scattered light rainshowers along the front.
If the launch is postponed 24 hours, the forecast improves to 90 percent chance of good conditions with the only concern being cumulus clouds. For a 48-hour delay, the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather with the concerns being cumulus clouds and rainshowers along the stalled frontal boundary.
Launch officials spent Tuesday going through paperwork and preparing for Wednesday's readiness meetings. The Lockheed Martin launch readiness review is planned for 7:30 a.m. EST and the multi-agency flight readiness review to clear the Atlas 2A rocket and DSCS spacecraft for liftoff is planned for 2 p.m. EST.
The launch pad was closed for part of Tuesday because the Atlas rocket on nearby pad 36B was undergoing a countdown dress rehearsal for the planned February 3 launch of the Spanish Hispasat 1C satellite.
DSCS B8 will become the 11th spacecraft launched under the DSCS-3 program, providing global communications for military users. The craft will use its Integrated Apogee Boost Subsystem, or IABS, onboard rocket motor to achieve geostationary orbit. The U.S. Air Force plans to position the satellite along the equator at 175 degrees East longitude.
Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2A
Payload: DSCS B8
Launch date: Jan. 21, 2000
Launch window: 0015-0139 GMT (7:15-8:39 p.m. EST on 20th)
Launch site: SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla.
Launch - Images of the final countdown and launch of the Atlas 2A rocket and DSCS B8 satellite.
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket launches with DSCS B8 from the Cape.
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The booster package is jettisoned from the base of the Atlas 2A rocket nearly three minutes into flight.
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Animation of the DSCS satellite's early operations once in space.
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Watch the sequence of events as the Atlas 2A rocket carries the U.S. Air Force's DSCS B8 satellite into orbit.
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Atlas vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch DSCS B8 into space.
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.
Launch windows - Available windows for future launch dates of AC-138.
DSCS B8 - Overview of the U.S. Air Force DSCS satellite program.
Atlas index - Listing of our previous Atlas coverage.
Explore the Net
International Launch Services - Lockheed Martin-led consortium which globally markets the U.S. Atlas and Russian Proton rockets.
Lockheed Martin Astronautics - U.S. company which builds and launches the Atlas family of rockets.
Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space - U.S. company that builds the DSCS satellites.
U.S. Air Force - Home page of the U.S. Air Force, which oversees the launch and DSCS fleet.
3rd SLS - U.S. Air Force Space Launch Squadron responsible for the Atlas at Cape Canaveral.
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