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The Mission




Rocket: Atlas 5 (AV-009)
Payload: NROL-30
Date: June 15, 2007
Time: 11:12 a.m. EDT (1512 GMT)
Site: Complex 41, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Broadcast: Galaxy 25 (formerly IA5), Transponder 23, C-band, 97° West

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Video archive

Complex 36 demolition

The two mobile service towers at Cape Canaveral's Complex 36 that had supported Atlas rockets for decades are toppled to the ground with 122 pounds of explosives.

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Atlas 5's NRO launch

The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifts off June 15 from Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 on the classified NROL-30 mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

 Full Coverage

Booster cameras

Hitch a ride up and down on the twin solid rocket boosters that launched shuttle Atlantis last week. Each booster was outfitted with three cameras to give NASA upclose footage of the vehicle's ascent.

 Full Coverage

Atlantis launch coverage

Shuttle Atlantis blasted off June 8 on its mission to the space station.

 Full Coverage

Phoenix: At the Cape

NASA's Mars lander named Phoenix has arrive at Kennedy Space Center to begin preparations for launch in August.

 Full coverage

"Apollo 17: On The Shoulders of Giants"

Apollo's final lunar voyage is relived in this movie. The film depicts the highlights of Apollo 17's journey to Taurus-Littrow and looks to the future Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and shuttle programs.

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"Apollo 10: To Sort Out The Unknowns"

The May 1969 mission of Apollo 10 served as a final dress rehearsal before the first lunar landing later that summer. Stafford, Young and Cernan went to the moon to uncover lingering spacecraft problems that needed to be solved.

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BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the ULA Atlas 5 rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Reload this page for the latest on the launch.

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THURSDAY, AUGUST 16, 2007

A team of U.S. government and contractor investigators is nearing the end of a two-month inquiry into a fuel leak that left two top secret spy satellites in the wrong orbit during a June launch of the Atlas 5 rocket.

The liquid hydrogen leak was traced to a valve that failed to close during a long coast phase between burns of the Centaur upper stage's RL10 engine. The RL10 conducted two burns during the June 15 launch to place a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the government agency that operates the nation's spy satellite fleet.

The open valve allowed the supercold liquid hydrogen to slowly leak from the Centaur stage, and the second burn of the RL10 was cut short four seconds early when the rocket ran out of fuel.

Read our full story.

TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

An investigation into the program that impacted Friday's Atlas 5 rocket launch is taking shape, the Air Force said today.

"The Centaur upper stage for the Atlas 5 NROL-30 mission had a minor performance anomaly. Per our regular process to assess any issues with launch hardware and performance, the Space and Missile Systems Center, together with United Launch Alliance, is leading a technical team assessment into the cause of the performance anomaly," a Launch and Range Systems spokesperson said.

"The assessment is in its initial stages of development, to include milestones leading to completion. We expect to have a better schedule assessment by the end of the week."

It is presumed that the second burn of the Centaur upper stage ended prematurely, resulting in a lower than planned orbit. However, that has not been confirmed by launch officials.

FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007

The Atlas rocket program's spotless success record over the past 80 flights in 14 years was hit with an apparent blemish Friday while launching a classified U.S. national security satellite payload, but the extent of the problem hasn't been disclosed to the public.

The hush-hush launch of the $82 million Atlas 5 booster for the secretive National Reconnaissance Office began at 11:12 a.m. EDT with a thunderous departure from Cape Canaveral's Complex 41. The 20-story bronze and white rocket, riding nearly a million pounds of thrust, gracefully rose into a clear blue sky with a golden tail of flame flickering behind.

The United Launch Alliance vehicle maneuvered into a northeast trajectory and raced up the U.S. East Coast toward a highly inclined orbit. Satellite observers say the liftoff was timed to put the vehicle on a course to deliver its clandestine cargo near the same orbital plane that is home to aging ocean surveillance spacecraft launched in 1996, giving strong evidence that the Atlas was hauling up replacement craft.

Four minutes into the flight, the kerosene-fueled first stage completed its planned firing of the Russian-designed RD-180 main engine and separated. The cryogenic Centaur upper stage then ignited for a lengthy burn to place the rocket into an initial parking orbit around Earth.

The rocket's two-piece nose cone shrouding the payload was jettisoned just after the Centaur engine started. The normal public release of commentary from the telemetry engineers during the flight was cut, under orders from the NRO, just after the fairing was shed. Officials had said in advance that this unusual information blackout would happen.

Events during the rest of the flight were announced by a ULA spokesman. He called shutdown of the Centaur's first burn about 19 minutes after liftoff, which marked the beginning of a quiet coast period through space lasting roughly an hour. Centaur then reignited for a second firing designed to place the payload into the desired orbit.

There was no indication from ULA that anything had gone awry during the orbit boost, and at T+plus 84 minutes and 42 seconds, deployment of the payload was announced with applause from the launch control center.

The launch was hailed as a success, marking 81 in a row for the Atlas rocket family dating back to 1993 and giving the Atlas 5 a perfect ten-for-ten record.

But news detracting from the launch outcome arrived eight hours after liftoff in the form a press statement from the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base saying the Centaur had experienced a problem during the flight.

"The Centaur upper stage had a technical anomaly which resulted in minor performance degradation. The Space and Missile Systems Center has initiated a standard review process," the statement read.

The press release, which still called the launch successful, said the payload had separated from the rocket normally and "the NRO is confident in the performance of its mission."

The public was left to speculate about the nature and the seriousness of the anomaly, whether the Centaur had fallen short of the targeted orbit because of an early engine shutdown or if some other problem had struck the rocket. Media questions were referred to the Air Force, which did not immediately respond to requests for additional clarification.

Friday's launch was the first time the new-generation Atlas 5 had carried a payload for the NRO, which is the government agency responsible for the nation's fleet of spy satellites.

The trade magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology reported in April that the Atlas would deploy a pair of formation-flying reconnaissance satellites. Three similar sets of the spacecraft for the Naval Ocean Surveillance System, or NOSS, have been launched aboard Atlas 2AS and Atlas 3 rockets in recent years.

The spacecraft are thought to be capable of detecting radio transmissions from ships to precisely pinpoint a vessel's location. Tracking suspicious ships in the post-9/11 era has become a critical role of the NOSS network, experts say.

"The need to track thousands of civilian ships worldwide has intensified given the potential for seemingly harmless shipping to be involved in nuclear, chemical or biological terrorist operations. Also, potential adversaries like China and Iran are demonstrating new sea-based tactics and capabilities that must be monitored," Aviation Week reported.

The naval theme for Friday's flight extended to the mission emblem. The giant logo on the rocket's nose cone featured an historic sailing ship with cannons at the ready.

What impact, if any, Friday's problem will have on the upcoming Atlas launch schedule remains to be seen. The next launch is scheduled for the evening of August 11 from Cape Canaveral to loft the first Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft for the Air Force. The 6.5-ton satellite, built by Boeing, is a sophisticated geostationary communications spacecraft to serve U.S. military forces.

Another Atlas 5 mission for the NRO is targeted for liftoff October 5 from the Cape.

2345 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT)

Aviation Week and Space Technology reports the NRO payload was launched into the wrong orbit today because of a problem with the Atlas 5 rocket. The trade magazine said the Centaur's second burn was shorter than planned.

The report also said the spacecraft, believed to be a pair of ocean surveillance satellites, likely have enough onboard fuel to reach the proper orbit on their own. Whether those unplanned maneuvers would limit the satellites' useful life isn't known.

2329 GMT (7:29 p.m. EDT)

The Air Force has just issued a statement saying the Centaur upper stage experienced "a technical anomaly" during today's launch. The problem resulted in "minor performance degradation," which could mean the rocket reached an incorrect orbit.

"Space vehicle separation was nominal and the NRO is confident in the performance of its mission. Atlas booster (first stage) performance was nominal. The Centaur upper stage had a technical anomaly which resulted in minor performance degradation. The Space and Missile Systems Center has initiated a standard review process."

Despite this news, the Air Force still calls the launch a success.

The extent of the problem and any other details were not released.

During the live broadcast of the flight today, United Launch Alliance called the mission a success and did not indicate any problems. The normal public release of commentary from the telemetry engineers during the flight was cut just after jettison of the rocket's payload fairing under orders from the NRO. Events during the rest of the flight were announced by a ULA spokesman.

2100 GMT (5:00 p.m. EDT)

"Today's launch is a tribute to the hard work of a dedicated government and industry team. We have now had two successful launches using the new EELV launch vehicles," Col. James Norman, director of the NRO Office of Space Launch and NRO mission director, said in reference to this Atlas 5 and last June's Delta 4 from Vandenberg AFB, California.

"Today's success also underscores the importance to our country's National Security Space enterprise of having and sustaining a reliable and experienced launch capability for these critical missions."

1636 GMT (12:36 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 84 minutes, 42 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Centaur upper stage has deployed the clandestine satellite cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, completing this hush-hush NROL-30 mission ascent.

This is the 81st consecutive successful launch for the Atlas rocket family dating back to 1993. And now the Atlas 5 is ten-for-ten in successful missions.

Today's launch was the first time the next-generation Atlas 5 has carried a payload for the NRO, which is the secretive government agency responsible for the nation's fleet of spy satellites.

"This launch directly supports NRO's goals of being the foundation for global situational awareness and for providing intelligence information on timelines responsive to user needs," the Air Force's pre-launch press release said.

"The NRO develops and operates unique and innovative overhead reconnaissance systems and conducts intelligence-related activities essential for U.S. national security."

The trade magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology reported in April that the Atlas would deploy a pair of ocean surveillance satellites.

The next Atlas 5 launch is scheduled for the evening of August 11 from Cape Canaveral. The vehicle will loft the first Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft for the Air Force. The 6.5-ton satellite, built by Boeing, is a sophisticated geostationary communications spacecraft to serve U.S. military forces.

Another Atlas 5 mission for the NRO is targeted for liftoff October 5 from the Cape.

1634 GMT (12:34 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 82 minutes, 31 seconds. MECO 2. The upper stage conducted its second burn of the day to boost the payload to the desired orbit. Release of the payload from the rocket is expected shortly.

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

T+plus 81 minutes, 35 seconds. The Centaur's single Pratt & Whitney RL10 engine has reignited.

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

T+plus 77 minutes. Centaur is coming up on engine restart following the lengthy coast period. The flight has gone well to this point, ULA says.

1552 GMT (11:52 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 40 minutes. Images of this morning's launch as seen from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site are posted here.

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

T+plus 20 minutes. The rocket will coast in this preliminary orbit until the RL10 engine is reignited at about T+plus 77 minutes, a ULA spokesman says. That burn will propel the classified payload into the targeted orbit for release from the launch vehicle.

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

T+plus 18 minutes, 50 seconds. MECO 1. Centaur's main engine has shut down following its first burn today, ULA has confirmed.

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

T+plus 16 minutes. The vehicle is over the North Atlantic already. Standing by for cutoff of the RL10 engine.

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

T+plus 12 minutes. The upper stage engine firing is proceeding as the rocket flies over the Atlantic Ocean, paralleling the U.S. East Coast. The rocket is heading for an initial parking orbit around Earth.

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

T+plus 8 minutes, 30 seconds. The first burn by the Centaur is continuing. About 10 minutes are left in this engine firing.

1518 GMT (11:18 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 6 minutes. Flight commentary from the Atlas telemetry folks was terminated to the public following jettison of the rocket nose cone. We'll pass along additional information about the launch's progress as it becomes available.

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

T+plus 5 minutes, 45 seconds. A good flight so far.

1516 GMT (11:16 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 38 seconds. The two-halves of the Atlas 5 rocket nose cone encapsulating the NRO spacecraft have separated.

1516 GMT (11:16 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 23 seconds. ignition of Centaur! The RL10 powerplant is up and running at full thrust.

1516 GMT (11:16 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 15 seconds. The RD-180 main engine has completed its burn and shut down. And the Atlas 5's Common Core Booster first stage has been jettisoned!

1516 GMT (11:16 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes. The engine is throttling down to keep a constant 5'g acceleration.

1515 GMT (11:15 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes. Atlas continues to cruise downrange. A beautiful launch! The RD-180 main engine is burning its mixture of highly refined kerosene and liquid oxygen.

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

T+plus 2 minutes, 15 seconds. The first stage main engine is firing normally.

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

T+plus 2 minutes. After climbing off the pad, the Atlas 5 maneuvered to a northeast trajectory. The rocket is heading up the U.S. East Coast toward a highly inclined orbit to deploy its clandestine payload.

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

T+plus 85 seconds. The vehicle has passed Mach 1. Coming up on the region of maximum dynamic pressure.

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

T+plus 70 seconds. The main engine throttle setting is 95 percent.

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

T+plus 60 seconds. One minute since liftoff. It has been a thunderous departure for the Atlas 5 rocket as the 20-story bronze and white vehicle soars into a clear blue Florida morning sky trailing a golden flame.

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

T+plus 50 seconds. The roll program is complete.

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

T+plus 30 seconds. The Atlas 5 is riding nearly a million pounds of thrust from the main engine as the rocket heads for space on its 10th flight.

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

T+plus 10 seconds. And the vehicle has cleared the tower!

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

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Atlas 5 rocket, setting sail for orbit with a national security payload for America!

1511 GMT (11:11 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 20 seconds. "Go Atlas," "Go Centaur" called by launch team, verifying all systems are ready.

1511 GMT (11:11 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute. Now 60 seconds from liftoff of the NROL-30 mission to deploy a classified National Reconnaissance Office spacecraft payload. This will be the first time an Atlas 5 has launched a cargo for the NRO.

1510 GMT (11:10 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 90 seconds. Launch control system is enabled. The flight termination system has been armed.

1510 GMT (11:10 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 50 seconds. The automatic computer sequencer is in control of all the critical events through liftoff.

1510 GMT (11:10 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. The Atlas first stage and Centaur upper stage are now switching to internal power. Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen topping for Centaur will be stopped in about 10 seconds.

1509 GMT (11:09 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. The Atlas first stage liquid oxygen replenishment is being secured so the tank can be pressurized for flight. Also, the RP-1 tank is being pressurized to flight level.

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

T-minus 3 minutes, 50 seconds. Ground pyrotechnics have been enabled.

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

T-minus 4 minutes and counting. The final phase of today's countdown has begun for the launch of the ULA Atlas 5 rocket on the NROL-30 mission! Liftoff is targeted to occur at 11:12 a.m.

1507 GMT (11:07 a.m. EDT)

Countdown clocks will resume in one minute. We are now five minutes from launch.

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

The ULA launch director and the government mission director each have given their approval to continue with the countdown for liftoff at 11:12 a.m. EDT this morning.

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

The launch team has been polled to verify all systems are ready to resume the countdown. No problems were reported.

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

The liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve issue has been resolved, a ULA spokesman just announced.

1459 GMT (10:59 a.m. EDT)

The new plan calls for a readiness poll of the launch team at 11:05 a.m., resumption of the count at 11:08 and liftoff at 11:12 a.m. EDT.

1454 GMT (10:54 a.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME. Liftoff time is slipping to 11:12 a.m. EDT. Engineers are discussing a liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve issue, a ULA spokesman says.

1451 GMT (10:51 a.m. EDT)

The onboard video camera package has been powered up.

1450 GMT (10:50 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the planned 10-minute hold to give the launch team a chance to review all systems before pressing ahead with liftoff.

1449 GMT (10:49 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes. Standing by to go into the final built-in hold.

1448 GMT (10:48 a.m. EDT)

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

1448 GMT (10:48 a.m. EDT)

The fuel-fill sequence for the first stage main engine is complete.

1444 GMT (10:44 a.m. EDT)

Twenty minutes to go. There are no significant issues being worked, the weather is beautiful and liftoff remains set for 11:04 a.m.

1439 GMT (10:39 a.m. EDT)

Flight control final preps are complete.

1435 GMT (10:35 a.m. EDT)

Today's launch will be the 10th for an Atlas 5 rocket since debuting in August 2002. The vehicle's flights have featured a very diverse payload list, including NASA space probes to Mars and Pluto, experimental U.S. military spacecraft and several commercial communications satellites.

This flight is the fifth to use the rocket's 401 configuration, which is the basic version of Atlas 5. The Common Core Booster first stage is outfitted with the RD-180 main engine, the Centaur upper stage has a single RL10 cryogenic engine and the payload shroud is the four-meter diameter option. No strap-on solid-fuel boosters are used by the 401 rocket.

Previous 401 launches were the first two Atlas 5 missions, with the European Hot Bird 6 and Greek Hellas Sat communications spacecraft, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Air Force's Space Test Program 1 flight.

The Air Force says the Atlas 5 rocket for today's NROL-30 mission is valued at $82 million.

1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT)

Positive news was just relayed from the anomaly resolution team. The possible concern with the guidance system has been put to rest. There is no issue and engineers are "go" for launch.

1424 GMT (10:24 a.m. EDT)

Forty minutes from liftoff. The countdown clocks are heading to the T-minus 4 minute mark where a planned 10-minute hold will occur. Launch of Atlas 5 on the NROL-30 mission remains scheduled for 11:04 a.m. EDT.

1422 GMT (10:22 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank has reached flight level.

1417 GMT (10:17 a.m. EDT)

Fast-filling of the first stage liquid oxygen tank has been completed. Topping mode is now underway.

1415 GMT (10:15 a.m. EDT)

Range Safety is conducting the standard pre-launch check of the flight termination system.

1414 GMT (10:14 a.m. EDT)

The first stage liquid oxygen tank is over 90 percent full.

1412 GMT (10:12 a.m. EDT)

Engineers are discussing a possible guidance system issue.

1411 GMT (10:11 a.m. EDT)

The liquid hydrogen tank in the Centaur upper stage has just reached 97 percent full. Topping is now beginning.

1407 GMT (10:07 a.m. EDT)

The weather officer has bumped up the odds of acceptable conditions today to 80 percent.

1405 GMT (10:05 a.m. EDT)

The Range just reported the equipment testing has been successful after some repairs this morning. And with that news, the Range is "go."

1404 GMT (10:04 a.m. EDT)

Launch is now just 60 minutes away. The first stage liquid oxygen tank is about three-quarters full.

1400 GMT (10:00 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid hydrogen tank is 30 percent full. The cryogenic propellant will be consumed with liquid oxygen by the stage's Pratt & Whitney-made RL10 engine.

1359 GMT (9:59 a.m. EDT)

The flight control final preparations are starting.

1357 GMT (9:57 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur engine chilldown has been initiated.

1354 GMT (9:54 a.m. EDT)

First stage liquid oxygen tank is 50 percent full. Chilled to Minus-298 degrees F, the liquid oxygen will be used with RP-1 kerosene by the RD-180 main engine on the first stage during the initial four minutes of flight today. The 25,000 gallons of RP-1 were loaded into the rocket prior today's countdown.

1350 GMT (9:50 a.m. EDT)

Centaur LH2 loading. Chilldown of the liquid hydrogen system is now complete, allowing the super-cold fuel to begin filling the Centaur upper stage.

1349 GMT (9:49 a.m. EDT)

Some repair work has been performed on the Range Safety equipment that went down again this morning. Testing is underway to verify the system is operational. The hardware is required to be online for launch.

1347 GMT (9:47 a.m. EDT)

The first stage liquid oxygen tank is about one-third full.

1340 GMT (9:40 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid oyxgen tank has reached flight level.

1335 GMT (9:35 a.m. EDT)

The first stage liquid oxygen loading is switching from slow-fill to fast-fill mode.

1334 GMT (9:34 a.m. EDT)

Now 90 minutes from the scheduled launch time. The Range has gone down again with technical problem. Troubleshooting is continuing. Meanwhile, the launch team is pressing forward with the countdown in hopes of liftoff at 11:04 a.m.

1332 GMT (9:32 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank has reached the 95 percent level. The topping off process is starting.

1328 GMT (9:28 a.m. EDT)

The chilldown conditioning of liquid hydrogen propellant lines at Complex 41 is starting to prepare the plumbing for transferring the Minus-423 degree F fuel into the rocket. The Centaur holds about 13,000 gallons of the cryogenic propellant.

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

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is nearing three-quarters full.

1324 GMT (9:24 a.m. EDT)

Atlas LOX loading.The chilldown conditioning of the systems for the first stage liquid oxygen tank have been completed. And a "go" has been given to begin pumping super-cold liquid oxygen into the Atlas 5's first stage. The Atlas liquid oxygen tank is the largest tank to be filled today. It holds about 50,000 gallons of cryogenic oxidizer for the RD-180 main engine.

1318 GMT (9:18 a.m. EDT)

A third of the Centaur liquid oxygen tank has been filled so far.

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

Centaur LOX loading. Following the thermal conditioning of the transfer pipes, filling of the Centaur upper stage with about 4,300 gallons of liquid oxygen has begun at Cape Canaveral's Complex 41.

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. The Centaur will perform a pair of firings today to deliver the NRO payload into the desired orbit.

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

The Centaur liquid oxygen pad storage area has been prepped. The next step is conditioning the transfer lines, which is now beginning to prepare the plumbing for flowing the cryogenic oxidizer.

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

Chilldown thermal conditioning of the mobile launch platform upon which the rocket stands is beginning. This is meant to ease the shock on equipment when supercold cryogenic propellants start flowing into the rocket a short time from now.

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

T-minus 120 minutes and counting! Launch operations are underway for this morning's flight of the Atlas 5 rocket on the NROL-30 mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Clocks have one more built-in hold planned at T-minus 4 minutes. That pause will last 10 minutes during which time the final "go" for launch will be given. All remains targeted for liftoff at 11:04 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral's Complex 41.

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

All console operators in the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center reported a "ready" status during the pre-fueling poll just completed by the launch conductor. The launch director and mission director gave their approvals as well.

Just prior to the poll, the ULA launch conductor briefed his team on countdown procedures before entering into the final two hours.

1230 GMT (8:30 a.m. EDT)

Weather forecasters continue to predict a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions for today's launch. Cumulus clouds and disturbed weather developing later in the morning are the primary concerns.

Right now, all weather conditions are "go."

The launch time outlook calls for scattered clouds at 2,500 and 25,000 feet, good visibility, easterly winds of 12 gusting to 18 knots, a temperature of 79-80 degrees F and isolated coastal showers.

Should the launch be delayed to Saturday for some reason, the odds of acceptable weather fall to only a 40 percent chance. A greater amount of cloud cover and thunderstorms are in the forecast for tomorrow.

Saturday's outlook includes scattered clouds at 2,500 and 10,000 feet, a deck of broken clouds at 25,000 feet, good visibility, southeasterly winds of 14 gusting to 20 knots, a temperature of 79-80 degrees F and isolated showers and thunderstorms.

1229 GMT (8:29 a.m. EDT)

Safety officials report the blast danger area surrounding the pad has been cleared of all personnel. The remainder of the countdown is considered hazardous, prompting the necessary protection around the launch complex.

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

T-minus 2 hours and holding. The countdown has just entered the first of two planned holds over the course of the morning that will lead to the 11:04 a.m. EDT launch of Atlas. This initial pause lasts 30 minutes, giving the some margin in the countdown timeline to deal with technical issues or any work that is running behind. The final hold is scheduled to occur at T-minus 4 minutes and last for 10 minutes.

1219 GMT (8:19 a.m. EDT)

The final members of the launch pad crew have finished their work and are leaving Complex 41.

1210 GMT (8:10 a.m. EDT)

The Range is beginning the hold-fire checks to ensure safety officers have the capability of halting the countdown if a problem occurs.

A little while ago, a C-band test with the Range was completed. This system allows the Air Force-controlled Eastern Range to track the Atlas 5 rocket during launch.

1204 GMT (8:04 a.m. EDT)

Now three hours from launch time. Weather here at the Cape is looking great this morning.

1145 GMT (7:45 a.m. EDT)

The launch team reports completion of guidance system testing.

1130 GMT (7:30 a.m. EDT)

Countdown activities are proceeding smoothly at Complex 41 for this morning's launch. The team is going through all of the testing and preparations just like yesterday, including a flight control operational test, preps of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen systems for the Centaur upper stage, internal battery checks, first stage propulsion and hydraulic preps, configuring of the pad's water deluge system and thermal chilldown of the cryogenic fuel storage areas at the complex.

1045 GMT (6:45 a.m. EDT)

A second countdown is underway for the hush-hush launch of the Atlas 5 rocket on its first satellite-deployment mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Immediately following yesterday's disappointing scrub, the launch team drained the cryogenic propellants from the rocket and safed systems as part of a normal 24-hour countdown turnaround. A fresh count picked up this morning, aiming for a liftoff at 11:04 a.m.

A technical problem with Range Safety equipment caused the first launch attempt to be called off. "The postponement was due to concerns about persistent problems with a mandatory component of the Eastern Range's command destruct system during the countdown," an Air Force spokesman said.

Read our earlier status center coverage.



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