Atlas rocket launches on Centennial of Flight
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: December 17, 2003
A century after man made the first powered flight -- the Wright brothers' historic achievement that set in motion the realization of aviation and spaceflight dreams -- an American rocket with a Russian-made engine soared successfully Wednesday to put a communications satellite high above Earth.
Unlike Orville and Wilbur's 12-second flight that went just 120 feet, Wednesday night's rocket launch lasted over 32 minutes, stretching from Florida's east coast to the skies above Africa where the U.S. Navy's Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On F11 communications satellite was deployed.
The craft was delivered into an elliptical orbit with a high point of 22,315 miles, a low point of 179 miles and inclination of 27 degrees.
The aerospace world has evolved beyond anything the Wright brothers could have imagined in 1903. Air travel is a part of everyday life, men have walked on the moon, and the space program now carries out satellite deployments in seemingly routine fashion.
Wednesday's space mission, valued at $193 million for the rocket and satellite, marked the 68th consecutive successful flight by an Atlas vehicle since 1993.
"Because of the Wright brothers and those who followed, the sky and the heavens beyond are no longer our limit, but rather the dramatic setting for today's amazing feats of adventure, exploration and discovery," NASA's deputy associate administrator and former astronaut, Fred Gregory, said at Wednesday's ceremonies marking the Centennial of Flight.
"Powered flight has advanced in ways that could not have been imagined on December 17, 1903. And in the future, flight will advance in ways that none of us can imagine as we stand here today. Yet always, for as long as there is human flight, we will honor the achievement of a cold morning on the Outer Banks of North Carolina by two young brothers named Orville and Wilbur Wright," Bush said.
"These past hundred years have brought supersonic flights, frequent space travel, the exploration of Mars, and the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which right now is moving at 39,000 miles per hour toward the outer edge of our solar system.
"By our skill and daring, America has excelled in every area of aviation and space travel. And our national commitment remains firm: By our skill and daring, we will continue to lead the world in flight.
"This day, however, is one for recalling an heroic event in the history of our nation, and in the story of mankind. Here at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, we remember one small machine, and we honor the giants who flew it."
"This extends the global communications not only for sailors on ships but all different branches of the armed services and all the way into commander-in-chief's office," said Dave Ryan, vice president and general manager of Boeing Satellite Systems.
A Boeing 601-model satellite, the UHF F11 will boost itself into geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the equator, parking at 172 degrees East longitude, to join a network of similar craft providing tactical mobile communications. Users of the system span all military services as well as the White House, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
"F11 is very important to our country's warfighters because it is going to sustain the UFO constellation," Ryan said.
This is 11th and final UHF Follow-On satellite was ordered by the Navy in 1999 to ensure the viability of the orbiting constellation until the next-generation Mobile User Objective System becomes available in 2009.
Plans call for F11 to reach geostationary orbit by December 23. It will undergo a series of antenna deployments and checkouts before being transferred from Boeing to the Navy in early February.
"Once Boeing completes on-orbit testing, F11 will be turned over to the Navy and it will replace the 23-year-old Fleetsat 4 and add additional capability to warfighter," said Bob Tarleton, the Navy's manager for communications satellite programs.
The F11 satellite features an ultra-high frequency and extremely-high frequency communications payload.
"The UHF frequency offers the capability of penetrating jungle foliage and inclement weather, as well as urban canyons. U.S. military personnel on the front lines of battle count on UHF communications provided by the UFO spacecraft," the Navy says.
"The EHF subsystem carried on F4 and subsequent satellites provides enhanced antijam telemetry, command, broadcast, and fleet interconnectivity communications, using advanced signal processing techniques."
This Atlas flight marked the first time a U.S. military payload has been launched by a Russian-made rocket engine. The previous six flights of the Atlas 3 and 5 families of boosters featuring the RD-180 powerplant carried commercial cargos.
The next Atlas mission, on February 5, will see an Atlas 2AS vehicle loft the AMC 10 communications satellite into orbit to relay cable television programming across the United States.
Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 3B (AC-203)
Payload: UHF Follow-On F11
Launch date: Dec. 17, 2003
Launch window: 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. EST (0230-0430 GMT on 18th)
Launch site: Complex 36B, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Satellite broadcast: Galaxy 3, Transponder 5, C-band
Launch preview - Our story looking at this Atlas 3 rocket launch of the UHF F11 satellite.
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.
Weather forecast - The latest forecast for launch day conditions.
Launch hazard area - The restricted area during liftoff.
Ground track - See the trajectory the rocket will follow during its flight.
Orbit insertion - Illustration of UHF F11's trek to geostationary orbit.
UHF satellites - Overview of the U.S. Navy's UHF Follow-On communications constellation.
Atlas 3B vehicle data - Description of rocket being used in this launch.
The RD-180 - Facts and figures about the Russian-built engine to power Atlas 3 and 5.
Atlas directory - See our coverage of previous Atlas rocket flights.
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