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The Mission




Rocket: Delta 2 (7920)
Payload: STSS-ATRR
Date: May 5, 2009
Window: 1:24-1:52 p.m. PDT (4:24-4:52 p.m. EDT)
Site: SLC-2W, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Broadcast: None

Mission Status Center

Photos: Launch gallery

Photos: Pre-flight

Launch events timeline

Ground track map

STSS fact sheet

Delta 2 rocket info

The pre-launch flow

Space Launch Complex 2

Our Delta archive





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BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and launch of the Delta 2 rocket with a missile defense research satellite. Reload for the latest updates.

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TUESDAY, MAY 5, 2009

A quasi-classified satellite that will serve as an engineering trailblazer for ballistic missile tracking technologies flew into space Tuesday.

Mounted aboard a two-stage Delta 2 rocket, the Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base along California's central coastline at 1:24 p.m. PDT (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT).

(Launch photo gallery can be seen here)

The United Launch Alliance-made rocket, one of the world's most reliable space boosters ever built, knifed through a thin layer of fog draped over the pad and then soared into clear blue skies.

Balanced atop more than 700,000 pounds of thrust from its kerosene-fed main engine and strap-on solid-propellant motors, the 12-story vehicle pitched southward and rapidly accelerated, breaking the sound barrier in just 32 seconds.

Six solid motors lit on the launch pad burned out a minute into flight and three remaining boosters were ignited in mid-air for the planned firing.

Once the solids had done their jobs and dropped away, the first stage powerplant continued pushing the rocket, eventually reaching 65 nautical miles in altitude four-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.

The slender blue stage successfully jettisoned as the hydrazine-fueled second stage began its crucial firing that carried the payload into an initial orbit around the planet.

Then it was time for the Delta to just coast, cruising above the South Pacific, around Antarctica and toward Africa over the course of about 40 minutes.

Once in the correct orientation over Madagascar, the second stage commanded its engine to perform a brief burn that propelled the orbit into a planned near-circular, sun-synchronous one.

Bolts restraining the satellite to the rocket motor then popped, followed a half-minute later by the opening of latches that freed the spacecraft to float away for the start of its experimental mission.

"It's incredibly satisfying knowing the work you're doing is crucial to national defense," said Col. Steve Winters, the 30th Space Wing vice commander at Vandenberg. "I'm very proud of our Airmen and mission partners for all the hard work they have put into this important mission."

The $400 million satellite is a research and development project that will test new sensors and their ability to track ballistic missiles.

Known as STSS-ATRR for short, the spacecraft is designed to be a stepping stone that will ease the riskiness of new technologies for the Missile Defense Agency.

According to information provided by the MDA, STSS-ATRR is a small craft that serves as a pathfinder aimed at proving prototype sensor technology, rocket and satellite integration, launch site processing and security planning.

The STSS-ATRR satellite was built by General Dynamics and has a planned mission life of one year, the MDA told Spaceflight Now.

Specific information about the sensors and other details related to the spacecraft haven't been released. "STSS-ATRR has classified aspects," the MDA says.

The next Delta 2 rocket launch, expected sometime in August from Florida's Cape Canaveral, also carries STSS satellites. That pair of demonstration spacecraft, along with STSS-ATRR deployed Tuesday, are supposed to show how the technologies perform in space and determine the quality of data produced.

"MDA is pursuing a space-based sensor layer to detect missile launches, provide continuous target tracking, and pass track data to missile defense interceptors with the accuracy and timeliness necessary to enable successful target interception," the agency said in a statement.

"The (Ballistic Missile Defense System) space sensor layer will provide combatant commanders with the ability to continuously track strategic and tactical ballistic missiles from launch through termination. Early launch detection and continuous midcourse tracking of target missiles will significantly improve the engagement time and effective defended area of the BMDS."

0000 GMT (8:00 p.m. EDT; 5:00 p.m. PDT)

A Delta 2 rocket rumbled out of California's Vandenberg Air Force Base today carrying a quasi-classified surveillance satellite for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Liftoff occurred at 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT).

"There were no technical issues during the flight of the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket," a NASA statement says, "and the STSS-ATRR spacecraft state of health is nominal."

Two quick images of the launch can be seen here and here. Photo credit is Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now.

This was the 88th consecutive successful Delta 2 rocket launch dating back to May 1997. The Delta 2's overall history since debuting in 1989 has achieved 141 successes in 143 flights.

The next Delta 2 rocket launch will occur from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. That mission later this summer will support the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, too, deploying a pair of demonstration satellites for the Missile Defense Agency.

2159 GMT (5:59 p.m. EDT; 2:59 p.m. PDT)

"Congratulations to our Missile Defense Agency and NASA customers for a tremendous start to this critically important national defense mission," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Delta Product Line. "Today's STSS-ATRR launch represents another important chapter in the Delta 2's successful history of supporting both DOD and NASA missions. ULA looks forward to launching the STSS Demo mission aboard another Delta 2 launch vehicle from the east coast later this year."

2122 GMT (5:22 p.m. EDT; 2:22 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 58 minutes, 18 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Space Tracking and Surveillance System has been released from the Delta 2 rocket's second stage, completing today's launch!

This quasi-classified spacecraft is a research and development testbed for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The $400 million mission, known as STSS-ATRR for short, is designed to be a stepping stone that will ease the riskiness of new technologies for the MDA's Ballistic Missile Defense System.

2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT; 2:21 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 57 minutes. The deployment of STSS-ATRR from the Delta second stage is a two-step process. The payload attach fitting's separation bolts will be released at T+plus 57 minutes, 30 seconds. A set of secondary latches then disengage at T+plus 58 minutes, allowing the satellite to physically separate from the rocket.

The second stage then performs a retro maneuver to back away from the spacecraft. That will be followed by a firing of the stage's engine about 18 minutes later to move the rocket farther from the spacecraft and then another burn about 45 minutes from now to deplete the remaining fuel supply as a safety measure.

2120 GMT (5:20 p.m. EDT; 2:20 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 56 minutes. There was never any public confirmation of the initial parking or this final orbit, either the pre-planned values or what was achieved today, given the secret nature of the STSS-ATRR satellite.

2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 55 minutes. At this point in the flight, the rocket should be maneuvering itself to the proper orientation for release of the payload.

2117 GMT (5:17 p.m. EDT; 2:17 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 53 minutes, 30 seconds. The second stage engine has performed its approximate 21-second firing to propel spacecraft payload into polar orbit.

2117 GMT (5:17 p.m. EDT; 2:17 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 53 minutes, 5 seconds. Ignition confirmed!

2114 GMT (5:14 p.m. EDT; 2:14 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 50 minutes. The next firing by the Delta rocket's second stage is coming up in just under three minutes. The Hartebeesthoek tracking station in South Africa should acquire the rocket's signal momentarily as it flies northbound.

2109 GMT (5:09 p.m. EDT; 2:09 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 45 minutes. The official liftoff time was 1:24:25.757 p.m. PDT.

2104 GMT (5:04 p.m. EDT; 2:04 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 40 minutes. The Air Force says the launch is proceeding per the plan. The rocket is coasting until the second stage restarts its engine at T+plus 52 minutes, 52 seconds for a brief 21-second firing to put the vehicle into a near-circular sun-synchronous orbit above Earth. Deployment of STSS-ATRR from the launch vehicle is expected to be confirmed nearly 58 minutes after liftoff.

2059 GMT (4:59 p.m. EDT; 1:59 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 35 minutes. According to the normal launch plan, shortly after the rocket rocket enters this temporary orbit, it maneuvers itself into the proper orientation for the coast. At T+plus 44 minutes, 30 seconds, the second stage will perform another maneuver get into the correct position for the next engine firing.

2043 GMT (4:43 p.m. EDT; 1:43 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 19 minutes. The last telemetry called publicly was an altitude of 91.8 miles, 736 miles downrange from the launch pad and a speed of 14,006 mph.

2036 GMT (4:36 p.m. EDT; 1:36 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 12 minutes. Officials are waiting for word on results of the second stage burn and what orbit has been achieved.

2035 GMT (4:35 p.m. EDT; 1:35 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 10 minutes, 35 seconds. SECO 1 has been confirmed. The second stage's Aerojet-made engine completed its initial burn for the launch. Delta and STSS-ATRR should be in a preliminary parking orbit.

2033 GMT (4:33 p.m. EDT; 1:33 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 9 minutes. Instrumented aircraft positioned over the Pacific has acquired the rocket's telemetry signal as the Delta travels away from Vandenberg.

The mobile assets get outfitted with equipment needed to receive the stream of data from the Delta 2's second stage after the rocket flies beyond the horizon of Vandenberg's ground station and reaches a preliminary parking orbit around the planet.

2032 GMT (4:32 p.m. EDT; 1:32 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 8 minutes, 15 seconds. About two minutes remain in this burn of the second stage engine to achieve the intended parking orbit.

2031 GMT (4:31 p.m. EDT; 1:31 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 7 minutes. The second stage is firing normally as the rocket passes 90 miles in altitude.

2030 GMT (4:30 p.m. EDT; 1:30 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 6 minutes, 25 seconds. The rocket is 88 miles in altitude, 573 and traveling at 13,190 miles per hour.

2030 GMT (4:30 p.m. EDT; 1:30 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 5 minutes, 30 seconds. The Delta 2 rocket is 79 miles in altitude, 403 miles downrange.

2029 GMT (4:29 p.m. EDT; 1:29 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 50 seconds. The rocket's 10-foot-diameter nose cone enclosing the STSS-ATRR spacecraft has been shed. The fairing is no longer needed, now that the Delta has climbed above the atmosphere.

2029 GMT (4:29 p.m. EDT; 1:29 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds. The Delta's second stage engine has ignited!

2029 GMT (4:29 p.m. EDT; 1:29 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 38 seconds. MECO and staging confirmed. The first stage main engine cutoff, followed moments later by shutdown of the twin vernier steering thrusters. The spent stage then jettisoned.

2027 GMT (4:27 p.m. EDT; 1:27 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The first stage main engine still firing well. The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne powerplant consumes kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen to produce about 200,000 pounds of thrust.

2026 GMT (4:26 p.m. EDT; 1:26 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 14 seconds. The trio of ATK-made solid rocket boosters ignited inflight have burned out of propellant. The Delta 2's first stage RS-27A main engine will be providing the sole thrust for the next few minutes.

2025 GMT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 1:25 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 31 seconds. The ground-lit boosters have jettisoned from the first stage. They remained attached until the rocket cleared off-shore oil rigs.

2025 GMT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 1:25 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 9 seconds. All six ground-start solid rocket boosters have burned out and the three air-lit motors were just lit.

2025 GMT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 1:25 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 50 seconds. The rocket has flown through the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure in the lower atmosphere. Coming up on ignition of the remaining three strap-on boosters.

2025 GMT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 1:25 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 35 seconds. Delta has broken the sound barrier already, rapidly accelerating on the power of its first stage main engine and the six ground-lit strap-on solid-fuel boosters.

2024 GMT (4:24 p.m. EDT; 1:24 p.m. PDT)

T+plus 15 seconds. The Delta 2 rocket is roaring out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, ascending from the pad and now maneuvering to its southerly heading for the trek downrange over the Pacific.

2024:25 GMT (4:24:25 p.m. EDT; 1:24:25 p.m. PDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Delta 2 rocket to launch the engineering trailblazer for America's new Space Tracking and Surveillance System!

2023:55 GMT (4:23:55 p.m. EDT; 1:23:55 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. SRB ignitors will be armed at T-minus 11 seconds.

The launch ignition sequence will begin at T-minus 2 seconds when a launch team member triggers the engine start switch. The process begins with ignition of the two vernier thrusters and first stage main engine start. The six ground-lit solid rocket motors then light at T-0 for liftoff.

2023:25 GMT (4:23:25 p.m. EDT; 1:23:25 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 1 minute. All remains "go" for today's liftoff.

2023:10 GMT (4:23:10 p.m. EDT; 1:23:10 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 75 seconds. First stage liquid oxygen topping to 100 percent is underway.

2022:40 GMT (4:22:40 p.m. EDT; 1:22:40 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 45 seconds. The launch pad water suppression system is being activated.

2022:25 GMT (4:22:25 p.m. EDT; 1:22:25 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. The first stage liquid oxygen vents are now being closed so the LOX tank can be pressurized for launch. Puffs of vapor from a relief valve on the rocket will be seen in the remainder of the countdown as the tank pressure stabilizes.

2021:55 GMT (4:21:55 p.m. EDT; 1:21:55 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 2 minutes, 30 seconds. The STSS-ATRR spacecraft has been declared "go" for launch.

2021:25 GMT (4:21:25 p.m. EDT; 1:21:25 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 3 minutes and counting. Clocks are proceeding toward an ontime liftoff of the United Launch Alliance-built rocket carrying the Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite, or STSS-ATRR. This research and development spacecraft is designed to test prototype sensor technology as part of the missile defense program.

2020:40 GMT (4:20:40 p.m. EDT; 1:20:40 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 3 minutes, 45 seconds. The Delta 2 rocket's systems are now transferring to internal power for launch. And the launch pad water system is being enabled.

2020:25 GMT (4:20:25 p.m. EDT; 1:20:25 p.m. PDT)

T-minus 4 minutes and counting! Clocks are ticking through the final segment of the Delta 2 rocket's countdown to liftoff. Launch is set for the precise moment of 1:24:25 p.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Following liftoff, the vehicle will head southward as it climbs into orbit on a 58-minute flight to deploy its satellite payload.

2019 GMT (4:19 p.m. EDT; 1:19 p.m. PDT)

Now five minutes from launch! Winds have been deemed acceptable and the "go" has been given to resume the countdown for launch.

2018 GMT (4:18 p.m. EDT; 1:18 p.m. PDT)

Now 6 minutes from the opening of the launch window.

STSS-ATRR will become the 217th primary payload put into space by the venerable Delta 2 rocket over the past 20 years. Here's a look at some other stats about today's mission. This will be:

  • The 341st Delta rocket launch since 1960
  • The fifth Delta of 2009
  • The 143rd Delta 2 rocket mission since 1989
  • The 36th Delta 2 rocket launch from Vandenberg AFB

    2016 GMT (4:16 p.m. EDT; 1:16 p.m. PDT)

    Launch team polling is underway. No technical problems were reported. Standing by for further information on the winds.

    2010 GMT (4:10 p.m. EDT; 1:10 p.m. PDT)

    T-minus 4 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the final planned built-in hold. This is a scheduled 10-minute pause leading to today's liftoff time of 1:24 p.m. local (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT) for the Delta 2 rocket with STSS-ATRR.

    However, winds are a constraint. Conditions will have to improve before the launch can proceed.

    A weather balloon can be seen rising into the sky right now to measure the current speeds and directions.

    2006 GMT (4:06 p.m. EDT; 1:06 p.m. PDT)

    The launch team continues to monitor the wind conditions. Weather balloon data shows winds are out of limits for the launch. But there's still another balloon run planned to relay data today. The countdown is marching onwards in hopes the winds will cooperate.

    1959 GMT (3:59 p.m. EDT; 12:59 p.m. PDT)

    T-minus 15 minutes and counting. Countdown clocks are running again following the planned 20-minute hold. The count will continue to the T-minus 4 minute mark where another planned hold is scheduled. Launch remains set to occur at 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT).

    1955 GMT (3:55 p.m. EDT; 12:55 p.m. PDT)

    A readiness poll of the launch team has resulted in a "go" to restart the countdown as scheduled.

    1946 GMT (3:46 p.m. EDT; 12:46 p.m. PDT)

    The Delta rocket will be flying in its configuration known as the 7920-10 vehicle. The two-stage launcher is fitted with nine strap-on solid-propellant motors and a 10-foot diameter composite nose cone.

    Flying away from its coastal pad, the rocket will head southward over the Pacific Ocean. Six of the solid boosters are ignited on the ground, the other three light a minute into flight to give the Delta's first stage added thrust through the initial ascent. Once the solids burn out and separate, the kerosene-powered main engine will continue pushing the rocket to an altitude of 65 nautical miles.

    The spent first stage will jettison to let the hydrazine-fueled second stage ignite and achieve a preliminary parking orbit 10 minutes into flight.

    The rocket then settles into a quiet coast along a trajectory the cruises above the South Pacific before crossing Antarctica and proceeding northbound toward Africa. The second stage reignites its engine for 21 seconds over Madagascar to reach a near-circular polar orbit above the planet.

    The payload is expected to be released from the rocket 58 minutes after blastoff.

    1939 GMT (3:39 p.m. EDT; 12:39 p.m. PDT)

    T-minus 15 minutes and holding. Clocks have entered the next planned hold period during the Terminal Countdown. This pause will last 20 minutes in duration.

    These holds are designed to give the launch team a chance to deal with any problems and catch up on work that could be running behind schedule.

    A reminder that if you will be away from your computer but would like to receive occasional updates on the countdown, sign up for our Twitter feed to get text message updates on your cellphone. U.S. readers can also sign up from their phone by texting "follow spaceflightnow" to 40404. (Standard text messaging charges apply.)

    1935 GMT (3:35 p.m. EDT; 12:35 p.m. PDT)

    The first stage engine steering checks just finished.

    1931 GMT (3:31 p.m. EDT; 12:31 p.m. PDT)

    The second stage engine slews are complete. First stage tests have begun.

    1929 GMT (3:29 p.m. EDT; 12:29 p.m. PDT)

    The launch team is beginning the "slew" or steering checks of the first and second stage engines. These are gimbal tests of the nozzles on the first stage main engine and twin vernier engines and second stage engine to ensure the rocket will be able to steer itself during launch.

    1924 GMT (3:24 p.m. EDT; 12:24 p.m. PDT)

    Launch is one hour away. Weather appears to be the only worry right now in the countdown. Low-level winds are gusty, which is something launch managers will have to closely watch as liftoff time nears.

    1908 GMT (3:08 p.m. EDT; 12:08 p.m. PDT)

    Loading of the Delta 2 rocket's first stage liquid oxygen tank has been accomplished. The process took 27 minutes and 10 seconds today, concluding at 12:07:57 p.m. local time. The tank will be replenished through the countdown to replace the super-cold liquid oxygen that naturally boils away.

    The rocket is now fully fueled for launch. The vehicle's first stage was successfully loaded with RP-1 kerosene fuel a little while ago. The second stage was filled with its storable nitrogen tetroxide and Aerozine 50 fuels last Friday. And the nine strap-on booster rockets are solid-propellant.

    1906 GMT (3:06 p.m. EDT; 12:06 p.m. PDT)

    The liquid oxygen tank has reached the 95 percent mark.

    1900 GMT (3:00 p.m. EDT; 12:00 p.m. PDT)

    Liquid oxygen loading is continuing. Once the first stage tank is 95 percent full, the "rapid load" valve will be closed and the slower "fine load" phase will continue to fill the rocket.

    1854 GMT (2:54 p.m. EDT; 11:54 a.m. PDT)

    Now just 90 minutes away from the planned launch of the Delta 2 rocket. It's a foggy and windy day at the pad. But the countdown remains on schedule.

    1850 GMT (2:50 p.m. EDT; 11:50 a.m. PDT)

    This approximate 25-minute process to fill the first stage liquid oxygen tank has been underway for 10 minutes. As the super-cold liquid oxygen continues to flow into the first stage, a bright white plume of vapors begins streaming from a vent on the rocket and the bottom of the vehicle ices over.

    1840 GMT (2:40 p.m. EDT; 11:40 a.m. PDT)

    LOX loading begins. Cryogenic liquid oxygen, chilled to Minus-298 degrees F, has started flowing from a 28,000-gallon storage tank at Space Launch Complex 2, through plumbing and into the bottom of the Delta 2 rocket. The LOX will be consumed by the first stage main engine during the first four-and-a-half minutes of flight along with the 10,000 gallons of RP-1 kerosene already loaded aboard the vehicle.

    1835 GMT (2:35 p.m. EDT; 11:35 a.m. PDT)

    The launch team has received the official "go" to begin preparations for loading the rocket's first stage liquid oxygen tank as planned.

    1824 GMT (2:24 p.m. EDT; 11:24 a.m. PDT)

    The countdown is ticking along smoothly at Vandenberg Air Force Base for launch just two hours from now at 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT).

    NASA's Launch Services Program is overseeing today's flight of the Delta 2 rocket. But instead of sending a space probe to another planet or a science observatory into orbit to study Earth, the rocket is carrying the Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

    NASA's expendable launch vehicle experts are lending their expertise to get the spacecraft into orbit for its missile tracking research and development mission.

    "It may not appear typical but in every way it's been typical to us. Other than different folks we're working with and not necessarily the Science or Exploration Directorate from Headquarters, we're performing the same job we always do in every sense of the word," said NASA launch manager Chuck Dovale.

    "It really hasn't been any different. We don't want to come across as if it doesn't matter what's on top (of the rocket), but it truly hasn't been any different than a science mission."

    How did the arrangement between NASA and the Missile Defense Agency come about?

    "I think it had to do with the timing of things. We had a mechanism to buy Delta 2's at the time and the Air Force, their contract was expiring and they were moving on to EELV. So MDA had a need for two and we were buying several Delta 2's at the time, so it was just added on," Dovale said.

    A second STSS launch is scheduled from Cape Canaveral later this summer using the other Delta 2 that was purchased.

    The MDA is paying NASA for the launch services.

    1822 GMT (2:22 p.m. EDT; 11:22 a.m. PDT)

    Work to turn on and configure the Delta's onboard guidance computer has been completed.

    1807 GMT (2:07 p.m. EDT; 11:07 a.m. PDT)

    The first stage fuel tank of the Delta 2 rocket has been fully loaded for today's planned launch. The tank was filled with a highly refined kerosene, called RP-1, during a 18-minute, 25-second process that officially concluded at 11:07:25 a.m. local time.

    The next major task in the count will be loading supercold cryogenic liquid oxygen into the first stage starting in about 30 minutes.

    The kerosene and liquid oxygen will be consumed by the stage's Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-27A main engine and twin vernier steering thrusters during the initial four-and-a-half minutes of flight.

    1806 GMT (2:06 p.m. EDT; 11:06 a.m. PDT)

    Rapid-loading of the RP-1 tank has concluded with 9,800 gallons already aboard the rocket. Fine load is continuing to finish filling the tank.

    1802 GMT (2:02 p.m. EDT; 11:02 a.m. PDT)

    The launch team has computed that today's full load for the first stage fuel tank is 9,983 gallons.

    Once the tank is filled to 98 percent or 9,800 gallons, the "rapid load" valve will be closed and the slower "fine load" phase will continue to top off the tank.

    1800 GMT (2:00 p.m. EDT; 11:00 a.m. PDT)

    The first stage tank has 7,000 gallons of kerosene aboard now.

    1754 GMT (1:54 p.m. EDT; 10:54 a.m. PDT)

    Kerosene fueling continues in progress. The rockets tank has been filled with 3,000 gallons so far.

    Also, the launch team confirms the first stage helium and nitrogen systems are pressurized and in good shape.

    1749 GMT (1:49 p.m. EDT; 10:49 a.m. PDT)

    Fueling begins. About 10,000 gallons of the kerosene propellant are pumping into the base of the rocket from storage tanks at the pad as fueling of the Delta 2's first stage begins for today's launch.

    A reminder that if you will be away from your computer but would like to receive occasional updates on the countdown, sign up for our Twitter feed to get text message updates on your cellphone. U.S. readers can also sign up from their phone by texting "follow spaceflightnow" to 40404. (Standard text messaging charges apply.)

    1744 GMT (1:44 p.m. EDT; 10:44 a.m. PDT)

    First stage fueling preparations are starting. After verifying valves, sensors, flow meters and equipment are ready, a highly-refined kerosene fuel will begin flowing into the vehicle a few minutes from now.

    1730 GMT (1:30 p.m. EDT; 10:30 a.m. PDT)

    The rocket's control system and guidance computer are being turned on.

    And the launch is starting the steps to pressurize the first and second stage helium and nitrogen systems and the second stage fuel and oxidizer tanks.

    1724 GMT (1:24 p.m. EDT; 10:24 a.m. PDT)

    The three-hour Terminal Countdown sequence begins now for today's launch of the Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The booster will carry into orbit STSS-ATRR, the Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite.

    Liftoff from the Space Launch Complex 2 pad is scheduled for 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT). This afternoon's available launch window stretches 28 minutes to 1:52 p.m.

    Between now and the launch time, the rocket's guidance system will be activated, onboard tanks pressurized, the kerosene and liquid oxygen supplies loaded into the first stage, checks performed on the safety system, steering tests conducted on the engines, then the final switches to internal power and arming of the ignitors.

    This is a normal countdown for the Delta 2, a typical timeline to ready the vehicle for flight. But this relatively rare daytime liftoff from Vandenberg means the launch team gets to perform the count during regular hours.

    "The thing that's not standard is the mid-day type of T-0. We're used to coming in here in the middle of the night," quipped Chuck Dovale, the NASA launch director.

    1715 GMT (1:15 p.m. EDT; 10:15 a.m. PDT)

    The launch conductor has just polled his team to ensure all stations are manned and systems are set for the Terminal Countdown. No problems were reported.

    1710 GMT (1:10 p.m. EDT; 10:10 a.m. PDT)

    "Man stations for Terminal Count." The launch team members are about to be polled confirm their readiness to enter into the final three hours of today's countdown.

    1624 GMT (12:24 p.m. EDT; 9:24 a.m. PDT)

    The Delta 2 rocket that will blast off four hours from now began taking shape at the Space Launch Complex 2 pad in early March when the first stage was erected. That was followed by the attachment of nine strap-on solid rocket motors and adding the second stage.

    The Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite was delivered to the launch pad on April 18 for hoisting into the tower and mounting atop the Delta.

    The two-piece, 10-foot-diameter composite nose cone was installed around the payload last week.

    NASA launch manager Chuck Dovale said the pad work and the major testing activities have proceeded smoothly. "It's been a cleaner than average processing."

    1524 GMT (11:24 a.m. EDT; 8:24 a.m. PDT)

    Launch day has dawned at Vandenberg Air Force Base for this afternoon's liftoff of the Delta 2 rocket carrying a research satellite for the Missile Defense Agency.

    The mobile service gantry at the launch pad was rolled back earlier this morning, and ground crews are finishing up work to configure equipment and systems at Space Launch Complex 2 prior to the start of the Terminal Countdown at 10:24 a.m. local time.

    A picture of the Delta 2 rocket taken overnight by United Launch Alliance photographer Carleton Bailie can be seen here.

    NASA says the pre-flight preps are proceeding well and liftoff remains targeted to occur at 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT).

    "There are no technical issues or concerns at this time," an agency spokesperson says.

    Watch this page for live updates throughout the countdown and launch of the Delta 2 rocket.

    If you will be away from your computer and still want occasional updates, sign up for our Twitter feed to get text message updates on your cellphone. U.S. readers can also sign up from their phone by texting "follow spaceflightnow" to 40404. (Standard text messaging charges apply.)

    MONDAY, MAY 4, 2009
    2330 GMT (6:30 p.m. EDT; 3:30 p.m. PDT)


    A Delta 2 rocket will rumble out of California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Tuesday afternoon carrying a quasi-classified surveillance satellite for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

    Approval to proceed with the planned countdown preparations was given this morning after final meetings were held to review the readiness for launch.

    Liftoff from the Space Launch Complex 2 pad is scheduled for 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT), which is the opening of a 28-minute window of opportunity for the rocket to fly.

    If you will be away from your computer on Tuesday, sign up for our Twitter feed to get text message updates on your cellphone. U.S. readers can also sign up from their phone by texting "follow spaceflightnow" to 40404. (Standard text messaging charges apply.)

    The launch will deploy the Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite, a research and development craft that will test new sensors and their ability to track ballistic missiles.

    The $400 million mission, known as STSS-ATRR for short, is designed to be a stepping stone that will ease the riskiness of new technologies for the MDA's Ballistic Missile Defense System.

    According to information provided by the MDA, STSS-ATRR is a small experimental satellite that serves as a pathfinder aimed at proving prototype sensor technology, rocket and satellite integration, launch site processing and security planning.

    The STSS-ATRR satellite was built by General Dynamics and has a planned mission life of one year, the MDA told Spaceflight Now.

    Specific information about the sensors and other details related to the spacecraft haven't been released. "STSS-ATRR has classified aspects," the MDA says.

    Tuesday's STSS-ATRR launch will be followed by another Delta rocket flight this summer from Florida's Cape Canaveral that will deploy a pair of STSS demonstration satellites. The two STSS test missions are supposed to show how the technologies perform in space and determine the quality of data produced.

    "They are both satellite launches, both being launched using the Delta 2's, but they are different missions MDA is funding towards a space-based sensor component of the Ballistic Missile Defense System," the MDA said in written responses to questions.

    "MDA is pursuing the Space Tracking and Surveillance System program as a space-based component of a layered Ballistic Missile System to detect, track, and provide engagement data to intercept ballistic missiles. From this perspective both missions will provide data, when compiled and analyzed may compliment each other's experiments," the MDA said.

    1915 GMT (3:15 p.m. EDT; 12:15 p.m. PDT)

    Air Force meteorologists continue to forecast a 60 percent chance of good weather for tomorrow's launch. Surface winds at the 1:24 p.m. PDT liftoff time remain the only concern for violating the launch rules.

    The outlook includes low stratus clouds at just 500 feet and high cirrus clouds at 35,000 feet, northwesterly winds of 12 to 15 knots with gusts to 22 knots from 310 to 340 degrees in direction and a temperature between 56 and 60 degrees F.

    "Weak high pressure continues to build in behind a low pressure system which pushed through the region this weekend," weather forecasters reported this morning. "The offshore positioning of the high will keep winds out of the northwest between 12 and 15 knots with occasional higher gusts between 20 and 22 knots. Exposure winds are expected to remain below 15 knots and will not be a concern for MST removal. Visibility will remain poor until late morning. Scattered low clouds and thin high level cirrus are expected, but will not impact the launch. Visibility at T-0 will be between 3 and 5 miles due to marine layer fog along the shoreline. Max upper-level winds are forecast to be westerly at 50 knots at 32,000 feet with weak directional wind shear throughout the vertical column."

    If the launch is delayed to Wednesday for some reason, the chance of winds being out of limits increases.

    "Slight changes are expected for the following 24-hour period," Air Force forecasters say. "Winds will strengthen out of the northwest between 15 and 18 knots with isolated higher gusts near 25 knots. Marine layer fog is expected to push slightly offshore and associated cloud tops will lower to 1,000 feet. Visibility is expected to improve slightly between 5 and 7 miles as the fog will move further offshore. Max upper-level winds will shift slightly to the southwest and remain at 50 knots at 32,000 feet."

    SUNDAY, MAY 3, 2009

    Officials running this week's flight of the Delta 2 rocket that will put a research and development testbed craft into orbit for enemy missile tracking will gather up Monday for a final round of pre-launch readiness reviews.

    A NASA-led meeting at 7:30 a.m. PDT and an Air Force review at 10 a.m. PDT will determine whether all systems are prepared to enter into the countdown.

    If all remains as planned, the rocket will launch Tuesday at 1:24 p.m. PDT (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying its experimental payload for the new Space Tracking and Surveillance System.

    The early weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. Gusty winds are the main concern. The outlook predicts northwesterly winds 12 to 15 knots with gusts up to 22 knots, a temperature of 58 degrees F and visibility of 3 to 5 miles in light fog.

    Tuesday's launch countdown activities will begin before dawn with final closeouts of the rocket's compartments and buttoning up the vehicle for flight before the pad's gantry-like mobile service tower is retracted away.

    Mission managers will be on-station by 7 a.m. launch morning to oversee the final hours of the pre-flight procedures. All workers should be out of the pad area by 9:30 a.m. local. And the Terminal Countdown commences at 10:24 a.m. local (1:24 p.m. EDT), leading to liftoff exactly three hours later.

    Once the three-hour sequence is running, the rocket's guidance computer system will be powered up, the first stage will be loaded with kerosene propellant and supercold liquid oxygen. Steering tests of the engines on both stages of the Delta then follow.

    Planned holds are built into the countdown at the T-minus 15 and T-minus 4 minute points lasting 20 minutes and 10 minutes long in duration, respectively. Those pauses are designed to give the launch team the opportunity to work problems or catch up on items perhaps running behind the timeline.

    Polls of the various launch team members and managers occur during the T-minus 4 hold to ensure everything is ready to proceed into the busy final minutes that see the rocket put on internal power, pressurized and armed for liftoff from California's Central Coast.

    FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2009

    The Delta 2 rocket that will boost an experimental research satellite into orbit for the Missile Defense Agency received its load of hypergolic propellants Friday, as preparations proceed smoothly for next week's launch.

    Liftoff is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. EDT; 2024 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

    A 28-minute window for the launch to occur stretches to 1:52 p.m., if weather or a technical glitch should interfere and prompt a brief delay. Officials plan to target the window's opening, but say the entire period is usable.

    The Flight Readiness Review took place Thursday and gave approval to fill the Delta 2 rocket's second stage with a storable hydrazine propellant mixture and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. The fuels will power the stage's main engine during the two firings needed to place the satellite into polar orbit.

    While the fueling was underway at the pad, a countdown dress rehearsal was conducted in the control rooms to practice launch day scripts and procedures.

    "That all went well," NASA launch manager Chuck Dovale said in an interview. The space agency is lending its expertise to the Missile Defense Agency and overseeing the Delta rocket's flight.

    The United Launch Alliance-built rocket will deliver into a low-Earth orbit the Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction satellite, or STSS-ATRR. It is a research and development spacecraft designed to test prototype sensor technology as part of the missile defense program.

    After getting Saturday off, workers Sunday will focus on Range Safety beacon checks.

    A pair of Launch Readiness Reviews will be held Monday morning for senior management to discuss the progress of pre-flight work, any technical issues and the status of the rocket, payload and ground support systems. Assuming there are no outstanding problems, the meeting concludes with officials giving the formal approval to proceed with Tuesday's launch.

    The early weather outlook predicts a system will move through the area over the weekend but clear out by Tuesday. The concern for launch day will be strong northwesterly winds of 20 to 25 knots. The limit at liftoff time is 26 knots.

    Watch this page for a full launch preview and continuing updates on the mission.

    If you will be away from your computer on Tuesday, sign up for our Twitter feed to get text message updates on your cellphone. U.S. readers can also sign up from their phone by texting "follow spaceflightnow" to 40404. (Standard text messaging charges apply.)

    Copyright 2009 SpaceflightNow.com, all rights reserved.


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