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.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2001

While America strikes back against terrorism half-way around the world, a surge of three previously-planned national security satellite launches in one month's time was completed successfully Wednesday night as a Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket soared into space from Cape Canaveral. Read our full launch story.

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0307 GMT (11:07 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Lockheed Martin has announced data on the orbit achieved during the launch, and the Atlas rocket performed successfully. The NRO payload was injected into the planned geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth with an apogee of 20,269.012 nautical miles of the targeted 20,351.9 nautical miles, a perigee of 147.979 nautical miles of expected 147.935 miles and inclination of 26.5004 degrees for targeted 26.503 degrees to th equator.

0301 GMT (11:01 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 29 minutes, 16 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The top-secret cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office has been released into space following launch this evening by the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket. This marks the 58th consecutive successful launch by an Atlas rocket dating back to 1993.

0259 GMT (10:59 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 27 minutes, 32 seconds. Spinup of the Centaur upper stage has started in advance of payload deployment in just under two minutes. Data from the rocket is being relayed to the ground via an orbiting NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.

0258 GMT (10:58 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 26 minutes, 20 seconds. The Centaur is beginning its reorientation maneuver to prepare for releasing the payload. Officials report the second Centaur burn was within one second of the nominal duration.

0257 GMT (10:57 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 25 minutes, 30 seconds. MECO 2. Centaur has completed its second firing, completing the powered phase of today's launch. Good shut down of the twin RL-10 engines reported. Coming up on deployment of the NRO satellite at about T+plus 29 minutes.

0256 GMT (10:56 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 24 minutes, 10 seconds. Flight control reports smooth conditions during ignition.

0255 GMT (10:55 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 23 minutes, 58 seconds. Centaur is up and burning again. The two RL-10 engines have reignited for a 90-second firing to accelerate the NRO payload into its required orbit around Earth.

0255 GMT (10:55 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 23 minutes, 18 seconds. Small thrusters on the stage are firing to settle the propellant inside the vehicle's tanks to prepare for engine ignition.

0252 GMT (10:52 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 20 minutes. The vehicle is now approaching the African Ivory Coast as it coasts above the Central Atlantic. Now about four minutes until Centaur engine restart.

0249 GMT (10:49 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 17 minutes. Lockheed Martin reports the parking orbit achieved was virtually right on the mark. The apogee altitude is 490.387 miles and perigee altitude of 94.991 miles with an inclination of 28.1591 degrees. The targets were 490.1 miles, 95.0 miles and 28.159 degrees, respectively.

0246 GMT (10:46 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 14 minutes. The vehicle continues in its quiet coast through space. Everything continues to go well in tonight's launch of the National Reconnaissance Office payload. Restart of the Centaur is planned to occur at about T+plus 23 minutes, 54 seconds for a 90-second burn.

0242 GMT (10:42 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 10 minutes, 2 seconds. MECO 1. The Centaur main engines have shut down as planned following the first of two planned firings to deliver the NRO payload into a preliminary parking orbit. The vehicle will coast for about 14 minutes before the Centaur reignites.

0240 GMT (10:40 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 8 minutes, 30 seconds. Altitude 110 miles, downrange distance 806 miles, velocity 13,300 mph.

0239 GMT (10:39 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 7 minutes, 40 seconds. The Centaur upper stage continues to fire with no problems reported. Altitude 112 miles, downrange distance 650 miles, velocity 11,700 mph.

0239 GMT (10:39 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 7 minutes. The Antigua downrange tracking station has aquired the rocket's signal.

0238 GMT (10:38 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 6 minutes, 5 seconds. Altitude 107 miles, downrange distance 425 miles, velocity 9,600 mph.

0237 GMT (10:37 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 5 minutes, 23 seconds. Ignition of Centaur's two engines has been confirmed. Full thrust reported for the Centaur's RL-10 powerplants.

0237 GMT (10:37 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 5 minutes, 5 seconds. The sustainer engine on Atlas has shut down as planned. Separation of the Atlas stage confirmed.

0236 GMT (10:36 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 4 minutes. Vehicle continues right down the predicted Range track.

0235 GMT (10:35 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The payload fairing has been jettisoned. It is no longer needed to protect NRO satellite during the launch.

0235 GMT (10:35 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 15 seconds. Altitude 53 miles, downrange distance 101 miles, velocity is 6,700 mph.

0234 GMT (10:34 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 55 seconds. 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 still firing.

0234 GMT (10:34 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Flight control reported smooth as the Atlas continues its climb into the night sky.

0234 GMT (10:34 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 2 minutes. Having burned all their propellant, the air-lit solid rocket boosters have separated from the Atlas rocket.

0233 GMT (10:33 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 78 seconds. The two spent ground-started solid rocket boosters have jettisoned to fall into the Atlantic Ocean. Atlas liquid-fueled engines continue to fire normally along with the two air-lit SRBs.

0233 GMT (10:33 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 60 seconds. The ground-lit solid rocket boosters have burned out and the air-lit motors have ignited.

0232 GMT (10:32 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T+plus 30 seconds. Pitch and roll programs underway as the vehicle heads eastward away from Florida. The Atlas engines and solid rocket boosters are firing to propel the vehicle and NRO payload to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

0232 GMT (10:32 p.m. EDT Wed.)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket carrying a secret satellite cargo for America's national security. And the vehicle has cleared the tower.

0231 GMT (10:31 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 31 seconds. Launch Sequence Start. The Atlas 2AS 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 and the flight data recorders will be readied. The engine ignition sequence will begin at T-minus 2.4 seconds.

0231 GMT (10:31 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 1 minute. Engines are being verified ready for flight. The final status checks of the propellant and pneumatic systems are upcoming to confirm the Atlas and Centaur stages are "go" for launch.

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

0230 GMT (10:30 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 2 minutes. Pressurization of the Atlas/Centaur vehicle has started. Tanks now being brought to proper pressure levels for flight. Also, the solid rocket booster fire commands have been enabled and the vehicle's inadvertent separation destruct safety system has been armed.

Shortly, the Centaur upper stage will go to internal power and the flight termination system will be armed.

0229 GMT (10:29 p.m. EDT Wed.)

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

And the NRO payload is confirmed on internal power.

0228 GMT (10:28 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 4 minutes. The Atlas booster stage and Flight Termination System are switching from ground-supplied power to internal batteries. The ground trickle charge to the satellite payload has been stopped and the spacecraft is on internal power.

0227 GMT (10:27 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting! The clocks are running again. We are now inside the final portion of this evening's countdown for the launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket with a classified NRO satellite payload from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Liftoff is set for 10:32 p.m. EDT.

0226 GMT (10:26 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Standing by to resume the countdown in one minute for blastoff at 10:32 p.m. EDT.

Should a problem force the countdown to be stopped inside the final 5 minutes, here is an explanation of recycle options depending on when the clocks were halted:

From the start of the automatic countdown at T-minus 31 seconds until T-minus 0.7 seconds, the launch conductor will be able to stop the countdown manually. A hold during the automatic sequence between T-minus 31 seconds and T-minus 11.3 seconds will equire a recycle to T-minus 5 minutes. A hold between T-minus 12 seconds and T-minus 9 seconds will require a recycle to T-minus 5 minutes for a minimum of one hour to re-initialize the INU in preparation for reentering the terminal count. A hold after Atlas start tanks are pressurized or Centaur equipment module vent door squibs fire (T-minus 8.65 seconds) and before T-minus 4 seconds will necessitate a launch abort and require a recycle to T-minus 24 hours. A hold after T-minus 4 seconds but prior to T-minus 0.7 seconds will necessitate a launch abort and require a 48 hour recycle.

0225 GMT (10:25 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Lockheed Martin Launch Director Adrian Laffitte has given his "go". The Air Force, which governs this launch, followed with its management team poll. There are no technical problems to report, the weather is acceptable and Range is clear. Standing by to resume the countdown in less than two minutes.

0224 GMT (10:24 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The Lockheed Martin final readiness poll of the entire launch team was just performed by Launch Conductor Ed Christiansen in the Complex 36 Blockhouse. Everyone reported "go" for launch!

0217 GMT (10:17 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Now 15 minutes away from liftoff. There are still no problems being reported. The launch team is simply monitoring systems and waiting out this hold in the countdown in preparation for the Atlas' on-time blastoff tonight.

0212 GMT (10:12 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the 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". The Atlas-Centaur rocket is now fully fueled and just awaiting the final minutes before liftoff at 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT).

0207 GMT (10:07 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. Coming up on the planned 15-minute built-in hold at T-minus 5 minutes. Countdown activities continue smoothly for an on-time liftoff tonight of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket carrying a classified national security payload.

0203 GMT (10:03 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The earlier Range issue has been resolved and the Air Force is currently "go" for launch. So there are now no issues being worked and the weather remains favorable for liftoff at 10:32 p.m. EDT.

0200 GMT (10:00 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Launch Weather Officer Johnny Weems has just given his scheduled final update to managers for this launch attempt. All launch rules remain "go" for liftoff at 10:32 p.m. EDT. The low and upper level clouds are not a concern, no showers are expected over the launch site during the rest of the countdown and the ground winds are still within limits. The upper level winds are also acceptable.

0152 GMT (9:52 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 25 minutes and counting. Countdown clocks are ticking down to the T-minus 5 minute mark where a 15-minute hold will occur. Liftoff still set for 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT).

Interrogation checks have been completed to verify the rocket's C-band beacon is ready for use to track the vehicle during flight.

0145 GMT (9:45 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank has reached flight level. But the Atlas and Centaur tanks have to be topped off as the countdown continues to replenished the cryogenics that naturally boils away.

Also, an inhibited self test of the rocket's Flight Termination System is starting. The FTS would be used to destroy the vehicle in the event of a malfunction during launch.

0132 GMT (9:32 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Now one hour away from the scheduled launch time. There is an unconfirmed report of a technical problem being worked with a Range radar, which would be the only significant issue currently standing in the way of launch. We'll update as more information can be verified.

0127 GMT (9:27 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 50 minutes and counting. The countdown is continuing on schedule for liftoff of the Atlas 2AS rocket at 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT) from Cape Canaveral tonight on a classified mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

The Anomaly Team reports the toggling reading from a measurement on the inadvertent separation destruct safety system is an instrumentation glitch and not a concern for tonight's launch.

Loading of the rocket with super-cold rocket fuel is nearing completion. The hydrogen tank is now half-full. The Centaur and Atlas liquid oxygen tanks are virtually completely full.

0121 GMT (9:21 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The liquid hydrogen chilldown is now complete and the super-cold fuel is flowing to fill the Centaur upper stage. The tanking was delayed a bit after a measurement reading showed the temperature went down too far during chilldown. That led to some discussion to ensure it was OK to proceed, which was the decision reached.

The cryogenic propellant will be consumed with liquid oxygen by the stage's Pratt & Whitney-made RL-10 engines to propel the NRO satellite into the targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank is now at the 80 percent level.

0117 GMT (9:17 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The liquid oxygen tank inside the Atlas booster stage is now half-full.

0112 GMT (9:12 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The rocket's shiny exterior is now turning a frosty white as a thin layer of ice forms from the super-cold liquid oxygen.

Meanwhile, Centaur liquid oxygen topping to flight level is underway. As the countdown proceeds, the tank will be replenished to replace the cryogenic liquid oxygen that naturally boils away.

Also, the final alignment of the Atlas rocket's inertial navigation guidance computer has been completed, and the flight control system final preps are now beginning.

Meanwhile, the Anomaly Team is currently discussing an issue that was raised concerning the rocket's inadvertent separation destruct safety system. A measurement was seen toggling "on" for a few milliseconds without being commanded to do so.

The weather remains promising at Cape Canaveral and the countdown continues ticking to a planned 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT) liftoff time.

0103 GMT (9:03 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has reached 95 percent full level where it is being maintained. Topping to 100 percent will be completed later. Now loading of liquid oxygen into the Atlas booster stage is beginning.

0102 GMT (9:02 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Now inside 90 minutes from the expected 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT) liftoff time.

0058 GMT (8:58 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The chilldown conditioning of liquid hydrogen propellant lines at pad 36B is now starting. This process is like the one performed on the liquid oxygen side whereby a small amount of the liquid is released from the pad's storage tank to prepare the plumbing for transferring the Minus-423 degree F fuel into the rocket.

Also at this time the doors of the Complex 36 Blockhouse are being sealed. The 120-member launch team is inside the blockhouse controlling the countdown just a couple hundred yards away from pad 36B.

0054 GMT (8:54 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The Centaur upper stage's liquid oxygen tank is now 30 percent full in this beginning portion of fueling operations.

0044 GMT (8:44 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Chilldown conditioning of the liquid oxygen transfer lines at pad 36B has been completed and the launch team is now beginning to fill the Centaur upper stage with its its supply of super-cold cryogenic oxidizer. The liquid oxygen is chilled to Minus-298 degrees F, and will be consumed by the Centaur's twin RL-10 engines along with liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the stage a little later in the countdown.

0035 GMT (8:35 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The "chilldown" procedure is starting to thermally condition the liquid oxygen propellants lines at pad 36B in advance of loading the Centaur upper stage. Chilldown is a process in which a small amount of the super-cold liquid oxygen is released from the pad's storage tank into the feed lines that lead to the rocket.

Meanwhile, gaseous helium chilldown of the Centaur engines and pneumatic bottle charge for the stage have started.

0032 GMT (8:32 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 105 minutes and counting. The countdown is running again following the planned half-hour built-in hold. Activities remain on track for liftoff in two hours. The final hold is planned at T-minus 5 minutes for 15 minutes. That all equates to a planned liftoff time of 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT).

Lockheed Martin is not reporting any technical problems and the weather looks promising for launch with a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions.

0028 GMT (8:28 p.m. EDT Wed.)

The Lockheed Martin Launch Conductor has just polled his launch team as well as the management team for a readiness to begin fueling the Atlas rocket. All parties reported "go" status. Approval was then given to continue with the countdown and start loading super-cold liquid propellants into the vehicle. Countdown clocks are due to resume at 8:32 p.m. EDT from the T-minus 105 minute mark and the initial stages of fueling will get underway moments later.

At launch pad 36B the tower securing work, final checks and removal of stabilization shims have been completed. The technicians are now ready to depart the complex.

0017 GMT (8:17 p.m. EDT Wed.)

Now half-way through this 30-minute scheduled hold at T-minus 105 minutes.

0002 GMT (8:02 p.m. EDT Wed.)

T-minus 105 minutes and holding. Clocks have entered a planned 30-minute hold period for the countdown tonight at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket.

The count has 45 minutes of built-in holds scheduled over the course the evening that will lead to liftoff. A second and final hold is planned at T-minus 5 minutes for 15 minutes. Although officials are not formally announcing the planned launch time given the heightened security surrounding this mission, you can certainly do the math.

The holds are designed to give the launch team a window of time to work any problems that could arise without delaying other pre-flight preparations.

The 219-foot tall mobile service tower at pad 36B has been retracted to the launch position. The tower is used to erect the rocket on the launch pad, provide access for workers to all areas of the vehicle and protection from the weather. It is electrically driven on four-wheel assemblies.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2001
2332 GMT (7:32 p.m. EDT)


The mobile service tower at launch pad 36B is beginning to roll away from the Atlas 2AS rocket. Also, the launch team is starting the final alignment of the vehicle's guidance computer following the completion of a navigation test.

Over the past couple of hours, the launch team at Complex 36 have worked through propulsion launch preps for the Atlas and Centaur stages, powered up the rocket's flight control system, conducted Atlas hydraulic system and Atlas and Centaur pneumatic preps and Centaur main engine igniter checks were also started.

2317 GMT (7:17 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 150 minutes and counting. "Man stations for Integrated Launch Operations." That is the call to the launch team for members to take their positions at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as the countdown shifts into high gear for tonight's liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office spacecraft.

The countdown is being controlled from the Complex 36 Blockhouse where the 120-member launch team has assembled to oversee the activities leading up to liftoff of the Atlas rocket designated AC-162.

There are two built-in holds remaining in the countdown at T-minus 105 minutes and T-minus 5 minutes.

Tonight's launch period extends from 10:15 and 11:15 p.m. EDT (0215-0315 GMT). The actual window during which the rocket can launch is within that period, but remains classified.

The latest weather report is still calling for a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions. The skies are completely overcast with showers throughout the county and breezy winds. But Launch Weather Officer Johnny Weems says the clouds and winds are within allowable limits and the showers are about to tapper off in the next hour.

The launch time forecast calls for some scattered to broken clouds at 3,000 feet and some higher cirrus clouds, easterly winds at 15 to 20 knots, well below the 27-knot limit, and a temperature in the mid-70s.

1815 GMT (2:15 p.m. EDT)

The countdown is underway at Cape Canaveral for tonight's launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket carrying a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Officials report there are no technical issues being worked on the rocket or spacecraft and the weather remains 90 percent favorable for liftoff sometime between 10:15 and 11:15 p.m. EDT (0215-0315 GMT Thursday). The exact target launch time has not been released for security reasons.

The only slight weather worries are gusty ground-level winds at the launch pad and the chance of an isolated rainshower. The winds are quite blustery today, but forecasters say the winds will ease after sunset.

Throughout the day the crews in the blockhouse and at pad 36B will proceed through their standard countdown chores needed to ready the Atlas booster and its Centaur upper stage for launch, as well as the ground systems and payload. Here is the list of key events in the order in which they will start:

Highlights of activities planned include Centaur propulsion launch preps, powering up the rocket's flight control system, Atlas propulsion and hydraulic systems preps, preps of the pad's tower and mobile service structure, performing the flight control operational test, the internal power test of Atlas/Centaur, performing a navigation test of rocket's guidance computer, Centaur engine igniter checks, starting Centaur helium purges and starting liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen system final preps

The Integrated Launch Operations -- the formal portion of the countdown -- begins three hours and 15 minutes before liftoff time (whatever that time is) with all the launch team members at their respective positions. The mobile service structure should start rolling away from the Atlas rocket three hours before launch.

Countdown clocks will enter a planned 30-minute hold at the T-minus 105 minute mark. During this time the launch team will have a chance to catch up on any work that might be running behind schedule.

Fueling of the rocket with super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen cryogenics commences after the countdown is restarted. Centaur liquid oxygen tanking starts first, followed by loading liquid oxygen into the Atlas stage and lastly liquid hydrogen fueling of Centaur.

A final planned hold is scheduled at T-minus 5 minutes for 15 minutes in duration. If there are no problems standing in the way of liftoff, the countdown will resume for an on-time launch.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2AS (AC-162)
Payload: NRO
Launch date: Oct. 10, 2001
Launch period: 10:15-11:15 p.m. EDT (0215-0315 GMT on 11th)
Launch site: SLC-36B, Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla.
Satellite broadcast: Telstar 6, Trans. 17, C-band

Pre-launch briefing
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.

Mission poster - The official artwork for this launch that is called Aquila.

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


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