Spaceflight Now: Atlas launch report


BY JUSTIN RAY

June 30, 2000 -- Read about the countdown and launch of NASA's TDRS-H communications satellite aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

FRIDAY, JUNE 30, 2000

A Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket soared into the Central Florida morning sky Friday on a $395 million mission to fortify NASA's communications relay link between Earth and space. The rocket scored its 51st straight success by delivering the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-H, or TDRS-H for short, in the planned geosynchronous transfer orbit around the planet. Read our full story.

1730 GMT (3:30 p.m. EDT)

The two springback antennas aboard NASA's TDRS-H spacecraft were successfully deployed today at 1:51 p.m. EDT (1751 GMT), officials report. The event was pushed back slightly to ensure controllers were taking their time, a NASA spokesman said. So far, everything is proceeding smoothly in the early hours of the TDRS-H mission.

"Everyone on the TDRS project worked extremely hard to get to this point," said TDRS Project Manager Tony Comberiate of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "It's exciting to know we've launched a spacecraft that will vastly improve 21st century communications and data relay services for users around the world."

Next up will be the first in a series of orbit raising maneuvers to boost the satellite from its current highly elliptical transfer orbit to a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles high. The apogee burn is expected 12 hours after launch to raise the low point of the satellite's orbit out of the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere.

1500 GMT (11:00 a.m. EDT)

NASA has established contact with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-H successfully launched into space this morning atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket. The acquisition of signal from the Hughes Space and Communications-built craft confirms it is alive following the 30-minute journey to Earth orbit.

The next major event will occur this hour when the two 15-foot diameter Single Access communications antennas on TDRS-H are unfurled. These graphite reflector antennas were folded into a taco-shape during launch and then spring into a shallow cup-shape in space. Watch a video clip from ground testing the deployment sequence.

We will update this page as events warrant. Also, be sure and checkout the launch movie.

1327 GMT (9:27 a.m. EDT)

Quick-look data shows the Lockheed Martin Atlas/Centaur rocket has delivered TDRS-H into a perfect orbit.

First contact with TDRS-H will occur in about 10 minutes through the U.S. Air Force's Diego Garcia ground tracking station in the Indian Ocean. This short communications session, followed by a much longer one 10 minutes later via the Canberra Deep Space Network station in Australia, will allow officials to determine the satellite's health following launch today.

We will update as soon as NASA provides a status report on its newest satellite circling Earth.

1326 GMT (9:26 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 minutes. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-H has been released into space following a successful launch today by the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket.

1325 GMT (9:25 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 29 minutes. Spinup of the Centaur upper stage has started in advance of TDRS deployment in less than a minute.

1323 GMT (9:23 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 27 minutes. The Centaur is beginning its reorientation maneuver to prepare for satellite release.

1322 GMT (9:22 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 26 minutes, 12 seconds. MECO 2. The Centaur upper stage has completed its second of two planned firings to place NASA's TDRS-H satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

1321 GMT (9:21 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 25 minutes. Centaur is up and burning again. The two RL-10 engines have restarted for a short 80-second firing.

1317 GMT (9:17 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 21 minutes. The second firing of Centaur is now less than four minutes away. Spacecraft separation is expected in just under 9 minutes.

1315 GMT (9:15 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 19 minutes. The Centaur stage with TDRS-H aboard are approaching the equator in low-Earth orbit. The coast of Africa is also coming into view of the rocket.

1312 GMT (9:12 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 16 minutes. Systems aboard the Centaur stage are reported healthy. Restart of the stage's two RL-10 engines is upcoming in just under 9 minutes.

1310 GMT (9:10 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 14 minutes. The Centaur continues its quiet coast period. NASA's orbiting Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System is currently receiving live telemetry from the rocket and beaming it back to Cape Canaveral. So the TDRS system is watching the TDRS-H satellite's journey into Earth orbit this morning.

1308 GMT (9:08 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 12 minutes. Data indicates the Lockheed Martin Atlas/Centaur rocket has performed very well so far in this morning's launch. The parking orbit achieved is basically perfect compared to the pre-launch predicted altitude. The high point was expected to be 312 miles, actual is 311.8 miles; the low point was predicted to be 90.3 miles and the actual is 90.2 miles.

1307 GMT (9:07 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 11 minutes. The Centaur upper stage and attached TDRS-H spacecraft are now in the midst of a 15-minute long coast period. The Centaur will be reignited at T+plus 24 minutes, 48 seconds.

1306 GMT (9:06 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 minutes. MECO 1. The Centaur main engines have cut off as planned following the first of two planned firings to deliver the TDRS-H satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit this morning.

1305 GMT (9:05 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 9 minutes. Vehicle continues heading right down the predicted flight track. Altitude is 103 miles, downrange distance 800 miles, velocity is up to 13,700 mph.

1304 GMT (9:04 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 8 minutes. The Antigua downrange tracking station has acquired signal from the rocket. The station is relaying data in realtime to Cape Canaveral.

1303 GMT (9:03 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 7 minutes. The two RL-10 upper stage engine still firing normally to achieve a low-altitude parking orbit around Earth.

1302 GMT (9:02 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 6 minutes. The Centaur first burn going as planned. This is firing will continue for another four minutes. Altitude is 97 miles, downrange distance 351 miles, velocity is 8,800 mph.

1301 GMT (9:01 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes. Separation of the Atlas stage confirmed and ignition of Centaur's two engines has occurred. Good thrust reported for the Centaur's RL-10 powerplants.

1300 GMT (9:00 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 40 seconds. The sustainer engine on Atlas has shut down as planned. Coming up on stage separation.

1259 GMT (8:59 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 45 seconds. The payload fairing has separated. It is no longer needed to protect TDRS-H during the launch. The Atlas rocket continues heading right down the projected track.

1259 GMT (8:59 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes. The booster engines have shut down and the booster package -- the bottom section of the rocket -- has been jettisoned. The sustainer engine of the Atlas vehicle continues to fire.

1258 GMT (8:58 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes. Coming up on booster engine cutoff in 45 seconds.

1257 GMT (8:57 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 90 seconds. All systems look good. Altitude is 8 miles, downrange distance 2 miles, velocity is 900 mph.

1257 GMT (8:57 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 60 seconds. The Atlas firing normally. Altitude is 2 miles.

1256 GMT (8:56 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 seconds. Pitch and roll programs underway.

1256 GMT (8:56 a.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket launching the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-H -- NASA's newest communications link between Earth and space.

1255 GMT (8:55 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 31 seconds. Launch Sequence Start. The Atlas 2A rocket's onboard computer is now controlling the remainder of the countdown.

In the next few seconds the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked for flight and the flight data recorders will be readied. The engine ignition sequence will begin the final four seconds of the countdown.

1255 GMT (8:55 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute. Engines are being verified ready for flight and final status checks are upcoming.

In the past minute, the inertial navigation unit was launch enabled, liquid hydrogen tanking was secured, fuel tank pressures reported stable and the ignition enable switch was closed.

1254 GMT (8:54 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. Pressurization of the Atlas/Centaur vehicle has started. Tanks now being brought to proper pressure levels for flight. Also, the rocket's engine have been prepared for launch.

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.

1253 GMT (8:53 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. The water system is being readied for activation at launch pad 36A. Water will flood the pad to suppress the sound produced at liftoff and protect the ground support systems.

1252 GMT (8:52 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes. The Atlas booster stage and Flight Termination System are switching to internal power. Also, the TDRS-H satellite is reported on internal power and ready for its half-hour ride into space.

1251 GMT (8:51 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting. The countdown has resumed for launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket with the TDRS-H communications satellite for NASA and manufacturer Hughes this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. There are no problems standing in the way of liftoff at 8:56 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT).

1250 GMT (8:50 a.m. EDT)

The TDRS-H spacecraft is now transferring to internal power for launch. The countdown will resume at T-minus 5 minutes and counting in one minute.

1249 GMT (8:49 a.m. EDT)

The Lockheed Martin final readiness poll of the entire launch team was just performed by Launch Conductor John Martin in the Complex 36 Blockhouse with all parties reporting a "go" for liftoff. Lockheed Martin Launch Director Adrian Laffitte then gave his approval for liftoff from the Mission Directors Center in the Cape Canaveral Industrial Area. Standing by the resume the countdown in two minutes for a launch at 8:56 a.m. EDT.

1247 GMT (8:47 a.m. EDT)

A repeat poll by NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale was just completed with no problems reported by the space agency.

1244 GMT (8:44 a.m. EDT)

RANGE IS GO. The boat intruding into the launch danger area is now left the area. Launch is now scheduled for 8:56 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT).

Still to come before resuming the countdown will be the final launch team polls and the TDRS-H spacecraft switching back to internal power.

1239 GMT (8:39 a.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME. Lockheed Martin has set 8:56 a.m. EDT as the new liftoff time. This is assuming the Range is clear by then.

1238 GMT (8:38 a.m. EDT)

The Range is reporting it will take at least another 10 minutes for the vessel to exit the restricted launch danger zone in the Atlantic Ocean. Standing by for a decision on a new target launch time this morning for the Atlas 2A rocket.

1232 GMT (8:32 a.m. EDT)

Lockheed Martin is planning to extend this hold at T-minus 5 minutes for an additional 10 minutes. Liftoff is now scheduled for 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT), pending the Range being clear of the one boat inside the restricted waters off the coast of the Cape. See a map of the launch danger area.

Meanwhile, the TDRS-H spacecraft is going back to external power during this delay.

1231 GMT (8:31 a.m. EDT)

RANGE IS NO GO. A boat has just been found in the launch danger area and the countdown will have to remain holding at T-minus 5 minutes. This will delay the planned 8:38 a.m. EDT liftoff. Today's window extends to 9:18 a.m. EDT.

1228 GMT (8:28 a.m. EDT)

The Eastern Range has given its "go" for launch. The Range is clear of all intruders and its downrange assets are reported ready. Now 10 minutes away from launch.

1227 GMT (8:27 a.m. EDT)

NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale has completed a poll of his team and reports the space agency and TDRS-H satellite are ready for launch. TDRS is currently transferring to internal power will be declared "go" for flight inside the final four minutes of the countdown. Liftoff still scheduled for 8:38 a.m. EDT.

1224 GMT (8:24 a.m. EDT)

The final readiness polls will be coming up shortly for the TDRS-H spacecraft and Atlas launch teams by NASA and Lockheed Martin, respectively. There are no problems being reported at this time.

1218 GMT (8:18 a.m. EDT)

The TDRS-H spacecraft is now preparing to switch ground-fed power to its internal power supply for this morning's scheduled launch, which is now 20 minutes away.

The Range is expected to be clear of any boats and weather conditions should be acceptable of an on-time liftoff.

1211 GMT (8:11 a.m. EDT)

The communications loops among the launch team members are fairly quiet at this time as the countdown remains holding at T-minus 5 minutes. Readiness polls of the team will be performed in about 15 minutes in advance of resuming the count at 8:33 a.m. EDT (1233 GMT).

1203 GMT (8:03 a.m. EDT)

Now 35 minutes away from launch of the Atlas 2A rocket and NASA's TDRS-H spacecraft.

The loading of the Atlas booster and Centaur upper stage with super-cold cryogenic propellant is complete. Given the cold nature of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, however, the cryogenics naturally boil away during the countdown. As a result, the tanks will be topped off until just minutes prior to liftoff. RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, was loaded aboard the Atlas stage prior to today's countdown.

1151 GMT (7:51 a.m. EDT)

The latest update from Launch Weather Officer Jim Sardonia is the approaching thunderstorms are not expected in the Cape Canaveral area until after the close of today's launch window. The window extends from 8:38 to 9:18 a.m. EDT (1238-1318 GMT). Right now skies are clear and weather looks very promising for an ontime liftoff.

1148 GMT (7:48 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown entered the planned built-in hold that will last 45 minutes this morning. This is 30 minutes longer than normal after the scheduled hold at T-minus 105 was moved to this point in the count.

At pad 36A fueling of the Centaur upper stage with liquid hydrogen is continuing without incident. The tank is over 65 percent full. Also the rocket's Flight Termination System self-test check was recently completed. The FTS would be used to destroy the Atlas rocket should problem occur during the launch.

The earlier gaseous nitrogen pressurization problem has been resolved. The only other concern this morning is a line of thunderstorms headed our way from the northwest.

1143 GMT (7:43 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. Coming up on the planned 45-minute long built-in hold at T-minus 5 minutes. Launch remains scheduled for 8:38 a.m. EDT (1238 GMT) this morning.

Read our earlier Mission Status Center coverage.

Next launch
Vehicle: Atlas 2A (AC-139)
Payload: NASA's TDRS-H
Launch date: June 30, 2000
Launch window: 1238-1318 GMT (8:38-9:18 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Flight profile
Track the major launch events for the Atlas 2A rocket carrying the TDRS-H satellite on Spaceflight Now's interactive flight profile page (requires JavaScript).

Pre-launch briefing
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Atlas 2A vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch TDRS-H into space.

TDRS-H - Description of the satellite to be launched on AC-139.

History of TDRSS - Past launches of TDRS satellites and their current status.

Launch windows - Available windows for possible future launch dates of AC-139.

Launch danger zone - Map shows restricted safety area off Cape Canaveral for this launch.


Video vault
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral's pad 36A NASA's TDRS-H satellite.
  PLAY (250k, 24sec QuickTime file)
Watch a movie about the planned sequence of events as the Atlas 2A rocket carries the TDRS-H communications satellite into orbit.
  PLAY (789k, 1min 51sec QuickTime file)
Animation shows NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-H working in geostationary orbit above Earth.
  PLAY (285k, 24sec QuickTime file)
Satellite builder Hughes tests the 15-foot diameter graphite shaped springback reflector antennas on TDRS-H.
  PLAY (169k, 12sec QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

Inside the blockhouse

Step inside the historic Complex 36 Blockhouse where the 120 members of the launch team control every countdown and liftoff of Atlas rockets from Cape Canaveral.
  VIEW (286k QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

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