BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3B rocket with the U.S. Navy's UHF F11 communications satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

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   VIDEO: TONIGHT'S LAUNCH AS SEEN THROUGH T+PLUS 5 MINUTES QT
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   VIDEO: ANIMATION OF UHF F11 SATELLITE IN SPACE QT
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   VIDEO: AN OVERVIEW OF UHF FOLLOW-ON SATELLITE PROGRAM QT
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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 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. Read our full launch story.

0430 GMT (11:30 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Atlas 3B rocket did its job tonight, placing the UHF F11 spacecraft into the correct geosynchronous transfer orbit. Mission officials report that the orbit's apogee is 35,911 km for a targeted 35,905 km, perigee is 288.3 km for a predicted 287.1 km and inclination right at 27 degrees.

0312 GMT (10:12 p.m. EST Wed.)

Ground controllers have established contact with the Boeing-built UHF F11 satellite.

We will pause our coverage for now. Check back later tonight for videos, pictures and a wrap-up story on tonight's mission.

0305 GMT (10:05 p.m. EST Wed.)

Celebrations are underway at Cape Canaveral with tonight's successful Atlas rocket launch, delivering the UHF F11 satellite into space.

0302 GMT (10:02 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 32 minutes, 34 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The U.S. Navy's Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On F11 communications satellite has been released into space following launch by the fourth Lockheed Martin Atlas 3 rocket!

This is the 68th consecutive successful launch of an Atlas rocket, dating back to 1993.

0301 GMT (10:01 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 31 minutes, 50 seconds. Less than a minute until spacecraft separation. Spinup continues.

0300 GMT (10:00 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 30 minutes, 40 seconds. Spinup of the Centaur upper stage has started in advance of spacecraft deployment. The spin will be about 5 rpm.

0259 GMT (9:59 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 29 minutes. The orbit achieved following the second Centaur burn looks normal, Lockheed Martin says.

0258 GMT (9:58 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 28 minutes, 30 seconds. Centaur is now reorienting to spacecraft deployment orbit. Release of UHF F11 is about four minutes away.

0257 GMT (9:57 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 27 minutes, 55 seconds. Good engine shutdown signatures seen.

0257 GMT (9:57 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 27 minutes, 48 seconds. MECO 2. The Centaur engine has shut down, completing the powered phase of tonight's launch.

0257 GMT (9:57 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 27 minutes, 15 seconds. Coming up on engine shutdown.

0256 GMT (9:56 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 26 minutes, 50 seconds. Acceleration remains smooth.

0256 GMT (9:56 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 26 minutes, 20 seconds. Centaur engine operating parameters reported flawless.

0255 GMT (9:55 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 25 minutes, 30 seconds. The rocket is at a normal 1-g acceleration.

0255 GMT (9:55 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 25 minutes. The engine start up signatures looked good. The RL10 is at full thrust.

0254 GMT (9:54 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 24 minutes, 46 seconds. The Pratt & Whitney RL10 engine of the Centaur upper stage has reignited for the burn to boost the UHF F11 cargo from the current parking orbit to a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth. This will be a three-minute, five-second burn.

0254 GMT (9:54 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 24 minutes, 30 seconds. The engine pre-ignition sequence has started.

0252 GMT (9:52 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 22 minutes, 40 seconds. Centaur system performance still looks good.

0251 GMT (9:51 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 21 minutes. The rocket remains in its quiet coast mode. Engine restart to head into geosynchronous transfer orbit is less than four minutes away.

0248 GMT (9:48 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 18 minutes. The parking orbit achieved is absolutely right on target with an apogee of 589.7 nautical miles, perigee of 99.9 nautical miles and inclination of 28.1 degrees. The planned orbit was 589.8 by 100 miles.

0245 GMT (9:45 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 15 minutes, 10 seconds. Normal engine shutdown signatures were seen at Main Engine Cut Off 1, or MECO 1. The Centaur and UHF F11 payload have reached a temporary low-altitude parking orbit around Earth.

0245 GMT (9:45 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 15 minutes, 3 seconds. MECO 1. The Centaur main engine has shut down as planned following the first of two planned firings to deliver the U.S. Navy's UHF F11 spacecraft into the desired orbit tonight. The vehicle will coast for about 10 minutes before the Centaur reignites to propel the satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

0244 GMT (9:44 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 14 minutes, 15 seconds. The vehicle rates are smooth, tank pressures are normal and battery voltages are good.

0243 GMT (9:43 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 13 minutes, 35 seconds. Vehicle system parameters all look normal, Lockheed Martin says.

0242 GMT (9:42 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 12 minutes. The RL10 upper stage engine continues to operate normally with less than three minutes left in this first burn.

0240 GMT (9:40 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 10 minutes, 45 seconds. The rocket is now 1,300-miles southeast of the launch pad at an altitude of 145 miles and traveling at a velocity of 11,800 miles per hour.

0240 GMT (9:40 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 10 minutes, 35 seconds. A constant acceleration of 0.6-g's is being experienced by the vehicle.

0240 GMT (9:40 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 10 minutes, 15 seconds. Engine parameters on the RL10 powerplant are normal, Lockheed Martin says.

0239 GMT (9:39 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 9 minutes, 5 seconds. Telemetry from the Centaur upper stage indicates all continues to go well in this launch of the Atlas 3B rocket.

0238 GMT (9:38 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 8 minutes, 30 seconds. Just over seven minutes remaining in this first firing of the Centaur upper stage to achieve a preliminary parking orbit around Earth.

0237 GMT (9:37 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 7 minutes, 35 seconds. Data has been restored. The RL10 engine continues to fire.

0236 GMT (9:36 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 6 minutes, 30 seconds. No live data is being received at the operations center. However, tracking shows the vehicle is on course.

0235 GMT (9:35 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 5 minutes, 35 seconds. The Centaur has rolled to an attitude for communications with NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.

0234 GMT (9:34 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 4 minutes, 40 seconds. The rocket is now 339-miles east of the launch pad at an altitude of 107 miles and traveling at a velocity of 8,800 miles per hour.

0234 GMT (9:34 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 4 minutes, 30 seconds. The vehicle remains right on the projected track.

0234 GMT (9:34 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 4 minutes. Good performance reported on the upper stage engine.

0233 GMT (9:33 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 35 seconds. The payload fairing has been jettisoned. It is no longer needed to protect the UHF F11 satellite during the launch.

0233 GMT (9:33 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 23 seconds. The Centaur upper stage's RL10 engine has ignited!

0233 GMT (9:33 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 12 seconds. The Russian RD-180 main engine of the Atlas 3 rocket's first stage has shut down as planned. And the spent first stage has been jettisoned to fall into the Atlantic.

0232 GMT (9:32 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 35 seconds. The RD-180 engine is throttling to hold constant acceleration.

0232 GMT (9:32 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 2 minutes. A good flight so far for the Atlas 3B rocket.

0231 GMT (9:31 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 77 seconds. The RD-180 engine is throttling up to 88 percent of thrust after passing through the through the region of maximum dynamic pressure.

0231 GMT (9:31 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 1 minute. The vehicle is on course as it heads eastward away from Florida.

0230 GMT (9:30 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 35 seconds. The Russian-made RD-180 main engine, making its seventh flight tonight, is easing back to two-thirds throttle as the Atlas rocket screams through the lower atmosphere.

0230 GMT (9:30 p.m. EST Wed.)

T+plus 10 seconds. The Lockheed Martin Atlas 3B rocket has cleared the tower at Complex 36, and the RD-180 main engine has revved up from three-quarters throttle to over 90 percent power.

0230 GMT (9:30 p.m. EST Wed.)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Atlas/Centaur rocket to cap a decade-long legacy of launching the fleet of UHF Follow-On communications satellites for the United States Navy on this 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight.

0229 GMT (9:29 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 31 seconds. The launch sequence has been started.

In the next few seconds the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked and the flight data recorders will be readied.

0229 GMT (9:29 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 1 minute. The RD-180 engine is being verified ready for flight and final status checks are underway. Engine ignition will occur at T-minus 2.73 seconds and the Russian-made powerplant will build up to 74 percent thrust. A check of eight engine parameters will performed by the rocket's onboard computer a half-second before liftoff. If no problems are detected, the rocket will be allowed to launch at T-0.

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

0228 GMT (9:28 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 2 minutes. Pressurization of the Atlas/Centaur vehicle has started. Tanks are now being brought to proper pressure levels for flight.

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

0227 GMT (9:27 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 3 minutes. RP-1 kerosene fuel is now flowing into the RD-180 engine, conditioning the powerplant for ignition.

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 UHF F11 spacecraft is confirmed on internal power for launch.

0226 GMT (9:26 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The Flight Termination System is switching from ground-supplied power to internal batteries.

0225 GMT (9:25 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 4 minutes, 30 seconds. Centaur pneumatics are being readied.

0225 GMT (9:25 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting! The countdown has resumed for tonight's launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3B rocket carrying the Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On F11 communications satellite.

Liftoff is set for 9:30 p.m. EST from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

0224 GMT (9:24 p.m. EST Wed.)

Standing by to pick up the countdown in one minute.

0223 GMT (9:23 p.m. EST Wed.)

Lockheed Martin launch director Adrian Laffitte has given his "go" to resume the countdown for an on-time liftoff tonight. The thrust section temperature issue discussed earlier isn't a constraint for flight.

0222 GMT (9:22 p.m. EST Wed.)

From his console in the Complex 36 blockhouse, launch conductor Ed Christiansen has polled the launch team for readiness to continue the countdown. No problems reported!

0219 GMT (9:19 p.m. EST Wed.)

The fuel fill sequence to condition the RD-180 main engine has started. Countdown will resume in six minutes.

0218 GMT (9:18 p.m. EST Wed.)

The scheduled liftoff time is now 12 minutes away.

0215 GMT (9:15 p.m. EST Wed.)

Launch team members continue taking steps to improve the temperature in the Atlas thrust section.

0212 GMT (9:12 p.m. EST Wed.)

The United States Navy's Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On communications spacecraft payload atop the Atlas 3B rocket is preparing to switch to its internal batteries for launch.

0212 GMT (9:12 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Complex 36 blockhouse escape tunnel doors are now being sealed.

0210 GMT (9:10 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered this final planned hold in tonight's launch operation. The pause is scheduled to last 15 minutes. During this time, the launch team will verify all systems are ready for flight. Management will also conduct a series of polls before giving final approval to continue with the countdown.

Liftoff remains targeted for 9:30 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

0205 GMT (9:05 p.m. EST Wed.)

Lockheed Martin says engineers are looking at the temperature in the Atlas thrust section, which is a bit colder than desired tonight.

0200 GMT (9:00 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 15 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 9:30 p.m. EST.

0159 GMT (8:59 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank is now reported at flight level. Centaur upper stage and Atlas first stage oxygen tanking reached flight level earlier, meaning the rocket is now fully fueled for launch.

But given the cryogenic nature of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen loaded into the rocket tonight, the supplies naturally boil away and the propellants have to be replenished during the countdown.

0157 GMT (8:57 p.m. EST Wed.)

Weather officer Johnny Weems has just briefed mission managers again. Winds at pad 36B are acceptable and all other weather rules are "go" for launch.

0152 GMT (8:52 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Atlas first stage liquid oxygen tank is now reported at flight level.

Also, the Flight Termination System test has been completed.

0145 GMT (8:45 p.m. EST Wed.)

Now 45 minutes away from liftoff of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3B rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Centaur hydrogen tank is now 97 percent full, heading to flight level.

0144 GMT (8:44 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Atlas first stage liquid oxygen topping to flight level is starting.

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

0137 GMT (8:37 p.m. EST Wed.)

Centaur's liquid oxygen supply is now reported at flight level.

0136 GMT (8:36 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur upper stage's liquid hydrogen fuel tank is now half full.

0131 GMT (8:31 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank has reached the 98 percent level where it is being maintained. Topping to 100 percent will be completed shortly.

Also, the Centaur hydrogen tank has reached the 20 percent mark.

0130 GMT (8:30 p.m. EST Wed.)

Launch of the Atlas 3B rocket is now 60 minutes away. The countdown is progressing smoothly tonight. The launch team is currently loading the Atlas liquid oxygen and Centaur liquid hydrogen tanks. The Centaur oxygen tank was filled earlier in the count.

0125 GMT (8:25 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur engine gaseous helium chilldown has started.

0124 GMT (8:24 p.m. EST Wed.)

The liquid oxygen tank in the Atlas first stage is now 70 percent full.

0122 GMT (8:22 p.m. EST Wed.)

The liquid hydrogen chilldown is now complete and the "go" has been given to load the super-chilled fuel into the Centaur upper stage. The cryogenic propellant will be consumed with liquid oxygen by the stage's Pratt & Whitney-made RL10 engine to propel the Navy's UHF F11 spacecraft into the targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit tonight.

0120 GMT (8:20 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank is now half full.

0115 GMT (8:15 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank is now at the 20 percent level. The rocket's first stage is icing over as the super-cold liquid oxygen continues to flow into the vehicle.

0112 GMT (8:12 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank, which was loaded a little while ago, is now being topped to flight level.

0105 GMT (8:05 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has reached 95 percent full level where it is being secured. Topping to 100 percent will be completed shortly. As the countdown proceeds, the tank will be replenished to replace the cryogenic liquid oxygen that naturally boils away.

And now the "go" has been given to commence loading of the Atlas first stage liquid oxygen tank.

0101 GMT (8:01 p.m. EST Wed.)

The chilldown conditioning of liquid hydrogen propellant lines at pad 36B is now starting to prepare the plumbing for transferring the Minus-423 degree F fuel into the rocket.

Also at this time the door of the Complex 36 Blockhouse is being sealed, protecting the 120-member launch team. The Blockhouse is located just 1,400 feet away from the Atlas 3 rocket at pad 36B, and serves as the control center for the countdown to launch.

0100 GMT (8:00 p.m. EST Wed.)

Launch of the Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral is now 90 minutes away. Lockheed Martin is not reporting any technical problems tonight, the weather is favorable and the countdown is proceeding on schedule as the vehicle is loaded with super-cold rocket fuel.

0059 GMT (7:59 p.m. EST Wed.)

Loading of the Centaur liquid oxygen tank continues. The tank has reached the 70 percent mark.

0055 GMT (7:55 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is now half full.

0050 GMT (7:50 p.m. EST Wed.)

The final alignment of the Atlas rocket's inertial navigation guidance computer has been completed. The flight control system final preps have begun.

0047 GMT (7:47 p.m. EST Wed.)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has reached the 10 percent level in these early minutes of fueling activities tonight.

0042 GMT (7:42 p.m. EST Wed.)

The chilldown conditioning of the liquid oxygen transfer lines at pad 36B is complete. The "go" has now been given to start filling the Centaur upper stage with its its supply of super-cold cryogenic oxidizer.

The liquid oxygen -- chilled to Minus-298 degrees F -- will be consumed during the launch by the Centaur's single RL10 engine along with liquid hydrogen to be pumped into the stage a little later in the countdown.

0031 GMT (7:31 p.m. EST Wed.)

Safety officials have confirmed that the danger area around the launch pad is cleared of all personnel.

With that verification, the launch conductor has given approval to start the "chilldown" procedure for thermal conditioning of the liquid oxygen fuel lines at pad 36B in advance of loading the Centaur upper stage.

0030 GMT (7:30 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 105 minutes and counting. Clocks are ticking again following the planned half-hour hold.

The countdown will continue to T-minus 5 minutes where a planned 15-minute built-in hold is scheduled. Launch of the Atlas 3B rocket with the U.S. Navy's UHF F11 communications satellite is still targeted for two hours from now at 9:30 p.m. EST.

0026 GMT (7:26 p.m. EST Wed.)

The launch team members have been individually polled to verify their readiness for the upcoming fueling operations when cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants are pumped into the Atlas and Centaur stages. No problems were reported during the poll by launch conductor Ed Christiansen. Launch director Adrian Laffitte then gave a "ready" status.

At launch pad 36B, workers have completed securing work following mobile service tower rollback. Launch conductor Ed Christiansen has instructed them to clear the area.

0022 GMT (7:22 p.m. EST Wed.)

The latest check of the winds at launch pad 36B shows the winds are blowing between 10 and 17 knots, which is well below the liftoff limit of 25 knots.

0020 GMT (7:20 p.m. EST Wed.)

Ten minutes are remaining in this hold at T-minus 105 minutes. In about five minutes, a readiness check of the launch team will be performed by Lockheed Martin launch conductor Ed Christiansen in preparation for fueling the rocket.

0010 GMT (7:10 p.m. EST Wed.)

Now one-third of the way through this planned hold in the countdown. With the mobile service tower rolled back, the final securing of the launch complex is being performed before workers clear the pad. The hazardous operation of loading cryogenic propellants into the vehicle will begin after the countdown resumes.

0000 GMT (7:00 p.m. EST Wed.)

T-minus 105 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered a planned 30-minute built-in hold for tonight's launch of the Atlas 3B rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The count has 45 minutes of holds scheduled over the course the evening that will lead to liftoff at 9:30 p.m. EST (0230 GMT). A second and final hold is planned at T-minus 5 minutes for 15 minutes.

The holds are designed to give the launch team a window of time to work any problems that could arise. At this point, however, Lockheed Martin is not reporting any technical issues as activities progress as planned this evening.

The mobile service tower has been rolled back, preparations are culminating with loading the Atlas 3B vehicle with super-cold rocket fuel and the weather appears quite promising tonight.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2003
2356 GMT (6:56 p.m. EST)


The Air Force has announced there is one Collision Avoidance period, or COLA, that will prohibit liftoff for a few minutes during tonight's launch window. The COLA extends from 10:53:38 to 10:58:15 p.m. EST.

COLA cutouts occur to ensure the rocket isn't launched on a course that would take it too close to an object already orbiting in space.

2355 GMT (6:55 p.m. EST)

The navigation test on the rocket's Inertial Navigation Unit guidance computer has been completed. The INU final alignment is now underway.

Also, the hazard area roadblocks are being established.

2352 GMT (6:52 p.m. EST)

Weather officer Johnny Weems just provided another update to launch officials. There is still an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions tonight. The only concern is winds. All weather rules are currently "go" for launch and expected to remain that way, Weems said.

2337 GMT (6:37 p.m. EST)

The mobile service tower is now clear of the rocket and continuing to roll to the parking location for tonight's launch.

A few moments ago, the launch team begun the C-band system test. The rocket's C-band beacon is ready for use to track the vehicle during flight.

2330 GMT (6:30 p.m. EST)

The command has been given to start rolling the mobile service tower away from the Atlas 3 rocket and into the launch position at pad 36B as the countdown enters the final three hours. Liftoff is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. EST.

The tower structure completely encloses the rocket on the pad. It is used to erect the vehicle on the pad, give access to all areas of the rocket for workers and provide protection from the weather. It is electrically driven to the launch location on four-wheel assemblies.

2318 GMT (6:18 p.m. EST)

Lockheed Martin launch conductor Ed Christiansen, stationed in the Complex 36 blockhouse, has just polled the various launch team members and launch director Adrian Laffitte to confirm everyone is "ready" for mobile service tower rollback. No problems were reported. The retraction is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m.

2315 GMT (6:15 p.m. EST)

T-minus 150 minutes and counting. "Man stations for Integrated Launch Operations."

On this Centennial of Flight, Lockheed Martin is preparing to launch of its Atlas 3B rocket carrying a U.S. Navy communications satellite into orbit tonight from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The launch crew and management team are set for this second countdown to AC-203, an Atlas-Centaur rocket, and the 11th Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On communications satellite.

There are two holds, lasting for a total of 45 minutes, built into the countdown at T-minus 105 minutes and T-minus 5 minutes. Liftoff is targeted for 9:30 p.m. EST.

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 this Atlas 3B rocket. The senior management team is housed in the Atlas 5 Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC), a change from the past use of NASA's Hangar AE Mission Directors Center for Atlas 2 and 3 rocket launches.

2310 GMT (6:10 p.m. EST)

Launch weather officer Johnny Weems just provided a briefing to managers. He has improved the odds of acceptable weather tonight -- there is now an 80 percent chance of conditions cooperating. The only concern will be winds.

The frontal system has moved through the area and there is no worry about clouds or rain tonight.

Earlier today, the winds were as high as 37 knots at pad 36B. However, they have been decreasing throughout the afternoon and are expected to be in the range of 17 to 23 knots for launch, which would be acceptable. The launch time limit is no greater than 25 knots.

Weems added that there is less than a 10 percent chance of getting winds above 29 knots, which is critical to ensure the rocket will be safe when it is exposed after the protective mobile service tower is rolled back later this hour.

In the high-altitudes, the winds aloft have been rather strong today. The peak wind is about 120 knots.

2300 GMT (6:00 p.m. EST)

Tonight's countdown at Cape Canaveral will enter the Integrated Launch Operations phase in 15 minutes.

2240 GMT (5:40 p.m. EST)

It is an absolutely beautiful evening here in Central Florida as the sun goes down. The skies are crystal clear and the temperature is on the chilly side of things. All in all it looks like a great night for a rocket launch, if the winds cooperate. Winds remain breezy, although officials hope the conditions will be acceptable at launch time in just under four hours.

2055 GMT (3:55 p.m. EST)

The latest check on the launch pad winds shows that the situation continues to improve from the very gusty conditions earlier. The winds have diminished below the 28-knot limit for rolling back the mobile service tower and have been peaking just at or below the 25-knot limit for launch.

1940 GMT (2:40 p.m. EST)

After more than a day of gloomy skies and rainy weather courtesy of a frontal system, the clouds are sliding out and the sun is reappearing at Cape Canaveral this afternoon. However, the winds remain strong, as forecast. Officials report that the winds had been well above the 25-knot launch limit at pad 36B earlier today, but have eased to around that 25-knot threshold at the present time.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

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

Pre-launch briefing
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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