BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket with a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2001

A Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket lumbered off its foggy launch pad Saturday morning carrying its heaviest cargo ever, a hush-hush spy satellite payload that observers suspect will eavesdrop on enemy ships sailing across the vast oceans of planet Earth. Read our full launch story.

For our Spaceflight Now +Plus Subscribers here is a collection of replays of the launch:

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   VIDEO: ATLAS 2AS ROCKET LIFTS OFF QT or RV
   VIDEO: DRAMATIC AERIAL VIEW OF LAUNCH QT or RV
   VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY SHOWS SLOW MOVING ROCKET QT or RV
   VIDEO: LAUNCH COMPLEX VIEW OF LIFTOFF QT or RV
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   MORE: COMPLETE SFN+ VIDEO INDEX

1633 GMT (12:33 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 68 minutes. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office has been released into space following launch today by the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket. This marks the 57th consecutive successful launch by an Atlas rocket dating back to 1993.

The Centaur second burn and spacecraft deployment occurred a few minutes earlier than the timeline the Air Force and Lockheed Martin released pre-flight.

1632 GMT (12:32 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 67 minutes. One minute from spacecraft deployment.

1631 GMT (12:31 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 66 minutes. The Centaur is beginning its reorientation maneuver to prepare for releasing the spacecraft.

1629 GMT (12:29 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 64 minutes, 40 seconds. Confirmation of MECO 2. Centaur has completed its second firing, completing the powered phase of today's launch. Coming up on deployment of the NRO payload in about four minutes.

1629 GMT (12:29 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 64 minutes, 10 seconds. Main engine start 2. Centaur is up and burning again as the vehicle flies above the northern Indian Ocean. The two RL-10 engines have reignited for a 12-second firing to accelerate the NRO payload into its required transfer orbit around Earth.

1627 GMT (12:27 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 62 minutes, 50 seconds. Small thrusters on the stage are firing to settle the propellant inside the vehicle's tanks to prepare for engine ignition.

1625 GMT (12:25 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 60 minutes. Now one hour since launch. The Centaur stage is being prepared for restart. Tank pressures and other measurements reported normal.

1618 GMT (12:18 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 53 minutes. The rocket is now passing to the east of Africa over the Indian Ocean. See a map of the planned ground track.

Coming up on the restart of Centaur shortly. The stage remains stable with no problems reported from the telemetry coming down.

1606 GMT (12:06 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 41 minutes. The official launch time was 1525:05 GMT (11:25:05 a.m. EDT; 8:25:05 a.m. PDT).

1600 GMT (12:00 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 35 minutes. Tracking support has been handed from one of NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites to another. No problems have been reported thus far in the flight and officials say the rocket has performed normally.

1556 GMT (11:56 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 31 minutes. The vehicle continues in its quiet coast phase. It is currently flying over the southern tip of South America.

1535 GMT (11:35 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 11 minutes, 35 seconds. Some data has been picked up and officials can confirm the Centaur engines have cut off as planned. The vehicle is now in a coast phase before reignition in less than an hour.

1535 GMT (11:35 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 minutes, 30 seconds. The telemetry downlink has dropped out. The team reports no data via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.

1534 GMT (11:34 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 9 minutes, 30 seconds. Everything continuing to look good on the Centaur, Lockheed Martin reports on this classified launch.

1532 GMT (11:32 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 7 minutes, 30 seconds. Smooth flight reported for the Centaur upper stage.

1530 GMT (11:30 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Full thrust reported for the Centaur's RL-10 powerplants. This firing will last about six minutes.

1530 GMT (11:30 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes. The sustainer engine on Atlas has shut down as planned. Separation of the Atlas stage confirmed and ignition of Centaur's two engines has occurred.

1528 GMT (11:28 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 50 seconds. The payload fairing has been jettisoned. It is no longer needed to protect NRO payload during the launch.

1528 GMT (11:28 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes. The booster engine system has shut down and the booster package -- the bottom section of the rocket -- has been jettisoned. The sustainer engine of the Atlas vehicle still firing.

1527 GMT (11:27 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 15 seconds. All four spent solid rocket boosters have been jettisoned from the Atlas. The casings were held onto the vehicle until passing into the cleared drop zone.

1527 GMT (11:27 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 5 seconds. The air-lit boosters have burned out of their propellant.

1526 GMT (11:26 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 65 seconds. The ground-lit solid rocket motors have burned out planned. The air-lit motors have ignited.

1525 GMT (11:25 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 45 seconds. All engine parameters looking good.

1525 GMT (11:25 a.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket carrying out a clandestine mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. And the vehicle has cleared the tower!

1524 GMT (11:24 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. The final status checks have been completed. All systems remain ready!

1524 GMT (11:24 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute. The Atlas stage has gone to internal power.

1523 GMT (11:23 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 40 seconds. Launch Commit Start. The ground launch sequencer computer system is now controlling the countdown to perform the final steps to ready the rocket and launch pad equipment for liftoff.

1522 GMT (11:22 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes and counting. The hold at T-minus 100 seconds has been removed. Countdown continues for liftoff at 1525 GMT as planned.

Meanwhile, the Flight Termination System and the vehicle's inadvertent separation destruct safety system have been armed.

1521 GMT (11:21 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and counting. The technical issue has been resolved. Range is green!

1520 GMT (11:20 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting! The clocks are running again. We are now inside the final portion of today's countdown to the launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket with a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload from Space Launch Complex 3-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Liftoff set for 1525 GMT.

However, there is some sort of technical problem being worked that will require a hold at T-minus 100 seconds if the glitch isn't fixed by then. But there is hope the team can get the issue resolved quickly.

1517 GMT (11:17 a.m. EDT)

Officials reporting some system has gone down. Work is underway to restore the system. The countdown is still scheduled to resume on time, but clocks will stop at T-minus 100 seconds if the problem is not resolved by then.

1514 GMT (11:14 a.m. EDT)

The Air Force/NRO team has been polled with no problems reported. The clearance was given to resume the count at 1520 GMT for a liftoff of the Atlas rocket at 1525 GMT (11:25 a.m. EDT; 8:25 a.m. PDT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

1513 GMT (11:13 a.m. EDT)

Lockheed Martin Launch Director Tom Heter has given his "go".

1512 GMT (11:12 a.m. EDT)

The Lockheed Martin final readiness poll of the entire launch team was just performed by Launch Conductor Mark Ware. Everyone reported "go" for launch! The Air Force/NRO management team will now be polled to give the final "go" for liftoff.

1508 GMT (11:08 a.m. EDT)

The launch team is receiving their final briefing for the remainder of the countdown.

1505 GMT (11:05 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered this planned hold. This pause is slated to last 15 minutes. There are no major technical problems being worked by the launch team and weather conditions are presently "go", but the fog and low clouds at the launch site that will make viewing the liftoff difficult. The Atlas-Centaur rocket is now fully fueled and just awaiting the final minutes before liftoff at 1525 GMT (11:25 a.m. EDT; 8:25 a.m. PDT), one minute later than than the Air Force originally announced.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

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Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2AS (AC-160)
Payload: NRO
Launch date: Sept. 8, 2001
Launch window: 1524-1536 GMT (11:24-11:36 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-3E, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
Satellite broadcast: Galaxy 3, Trans. 9, C-band

Pre-launch briefing
Launch preview - Our story detailing the mission and likely payload.

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

Ground track - See the trajectory the rocket will follow during its flight.

Atlas 2AS vehicle data - Overview of the rocket to be used in this launch.

Atlas index - A directory of our previous Atlas launch coverage.


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