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The Mission

Rocket: Titan 4B (B-30)
Payload: Classified
Date: April 29, 2005
Period: 8:50 p.m. EDT
Site: Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Broadcast: Galaxy 3, Transponder 7, C-Band, 95° West

Mission Status Center

Launch preview story

Workers' uncertain future

Launch events timeline

Hazard area map

Titan 4 rocket info

Vehicle history

Titan 4 archive

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Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

'Salute to Titan'
This video by Lockheed Martin relives the storied history of the Titan rocket family over the past five decades. (4min 21sec file)
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Titan history
Footage from that various Titan rocket launches from the 1950s to today is compiled into this movie. (6min 52sec file)
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Titan 4 rollout
The Titan 4 rocket emerges from the Solid Motor Assembly and Readiness Facility at Cape Canaveral at about 5:45 a.m. August 25 for rollout to the Complex 40 pad. (3min 58sec file)
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On the launch pad
Riding on its mobile launching platform, the Titan 4 rocket arrives at the pad just before sunrise. (5min 22sec file)
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Sunrise over Titan 4
As dawn breaks over Cape Canaveral, these daylight scenes show the Titan 4 on Complex 40 in preparation for the final Florida launch of this heavy-lift rocket. (2min 11sec file)
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Follow the countdown and launch of the final Titan 4 rocket to fly from Cape Canaveral. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

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1445 GMT (10:45 a.m. EDT)

A sophisticated radar-imaging spy satellite is what the Titan 4B rocket launched Friday night, according to sharp-eyed sky watchers who spotted the spacecraft literally minutes after blastoff.

Hobbyist satellite observers were anxiously awaiting the liftoff due to the mysterious identity of what the big booster would place into orbit.

Given the 8:50 p.m. EDT (0050 GMT) liftoff time, watchers in Canada and across Europe were well placed to see the payload flying on its own after deployment from the rocket.

The leading theory before launch suggested this was the fifth in a series of radar-imaging satellites known in the public as LACROSSE. Ted Molczan, an experienced and respected satellite observer from Toronto, Canada, and his fellow internet sky-watching group members knew exactly where to look if this launch was going into such an orbit for LACROSSE 5.

The Titan launched on schedule, soaring up the U.S. East Coast to the dazzling delight of spectators from Florida to New England who saw the rocket's exhaust trail and the remarkable sight when the first stage jettisoned at the moment of second stage ignition.

About 9 minutes, 30 seconds into flight, the rocket released its clandestine cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office -- the government agency responsible for operating the country's fleet of spy satellites.

Molczan initially saw the satellite and its spent rocket stage, followed shortly thereafter by several observations in Europe. Later sightings and calculations have determined this spacecraft is flying in an orbit that matches the prediction for LACROSSE.

"Without a doubt, this is the initial orbit of a LACROSSE in a 57-degree inclination orbit," Molczan said.

"It was a nice way for Titan 4 to end its East Coast career, and I am pleased that quite a few list members were able to see it."

Two of the previous four LACROSSEs were launched into such an orbit -- in 1988 by space shuttle Atlantis and 1997 by a Titan 4A rocket. The other pair were placed in a 68-degree orbit to cover more of the planet's surface following launches in 1991 and 2000.

The intelligence-gathering craft probably use a synthetic aperture radar system to observe strategic targets around the globe in both daylight and darkness from orbital perches 420 miles above Earth. The eyes-in-the-sky can pierce clouds, detect objects a few feet across and even reveal underground structures like military bunkers.

0355 GMT (11:55 p.m. EDT Fri.)

Below are more reports from readers from Florida to New England who saw tonight's launch:

  • "Great sight from Miami Beach. Incredible second stage flash. Best ever and been watching launches for 10+ years."

  • "The Titan 4 launch from my viewpoint at Phillippi Park in Sarasota was nothing less than spectacular. Very firey first stage ascent appeared to be going straight up. Very clear viewing. Booster jettison was equally visible, and the boosters seemed to stay ignited for a much longer time after dropping off than the shuttles. When first stage separation occurred, both my sons were blown away by the "fireworks effect". I also noticed the comet-like effect of the cloud of propellent after the first stage dropped away. A very remarkable launch."

  • "From Charleston, SC: Was out to watch an Iridium flare when I noticed a rocket rise above the southern horizon. Watched the booster separation, then then the rocket appeared to fade, but the smoke trail was visible. Turned attention back to looking for the Iridium, when one of the neighborhood kids said 'I see the satellite!' It was in the wrong place and moving the wrong direction so I knew it had to be the launch. We watched the ascent continue. Thru binoculars I noticed what looked like a 'bow shock.' It grew brighter and larger. Then the stages separated. It was brilliant and looked like a scene out of a Sci-fi movie. We watched the two objects as the main payload pulled away, but the trailing stage remained bright with a fuzzy, comet like appearance. I have seen about 7 evening shuttle launches from this location, my own back yard, and this was the most spectacular launch I have seen. There were four neighborhood kids, my next door neighbor, and my daughter and her friend watching. We all have a memory that will remain vivid for years to come. Oh, and by the way, we saw the Iridium flare, magnitude -6, but it paled in comparison to the launch!!!!"

  • "Saw an amazing explosion over Charleston, SC. Police and local news flooded with calls. Most beautiful and amazing sight I've ever seen."

  • "We saw this from our backyard in Myrtle Beach, SC, and were so glad to find your story to know what it was we saw! Thank you!"

  • "I was just outside my home in Hampstead, North Carolina and got a beautiful view of the 8:55 p.m. stage separation. From my view point it was slightly East of due South. SUPERB!!!! IMPRESSIVE!!!!...I'm running out of adjectives."

  • "Two objects from today's launch were tracked by amateur observer as they passed over Scotland about 20 minutes after launch. Vented gases accompanied the pair, which were seen from 01.09 to 01.14 Universal Time. Further observations may be made on following orbit about 96 minutes later."

Meanwhile, we have posted a movie of tonight's launch is available to Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

0125 GMT (9:25 p.m. EDT Fri.)

We're receiving dozens of emails from folks up and down the U.S. East Coast who spotted the rocket as it ascended into orbit.

A report from Roger Guillemette at his home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on South Shore Beach in Little Compton, Rhode Island:

"Just saw the Titan!

"Through a high cloud deck - opaque enough to see the Big Dipper thru - I saw two comet-like objects, appearing to be large balls of glowing dust, rise above the eastern horizon. The first ball appeared to be glowing, moved very fast and headed due East up the Atlantic seaboard, the second cloud was trailing by an ever increasing distance and started to fade. The first glowing ball then faded out of sight, just about 8:59 p.m.

"Amazing sight - the Titan heading into orbit with the trailing stage venting propellant."

0110 GMT (9:10 p.m. EDT Fri.)

With this successful delivery of the national security satellite payload into orbit aboard the final Titan from the Cape, a celebration is upcoming tonight.

"A lot of our VIPs and folks are gonna speak to the troops and thank them, kind of a farewell in that regard," said Ben Dusenbery, Lockheed Martin's director of Titan launch operations at the Cape.

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

"A great ending to a spectacular history," said Walt Yager, Lockheed Martin's vice president of the Titan program. This was the 168th Titan from the Cape.

Just one more rocket remains to fly -- a July 10th liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. It will be the 200th West Coast Titan liftoff.

The program began flights of the Titan 1 ICBM in 1959 from the Cape.

0100 GMT (9:00 p.m. EDT Fri.)

"A very successful mission this evening," Lockheed Martin's spokesman in the launch center reports. "Congratulations to the entire team."

0059 GMT (8:59 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 9 minutes, 35 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The Titan 4 rocket has released the top-secret National Reconnaissance Office satellite into space, completing tonight's ascent that ends five-decades of Titan launches from Cape Canaveral.

0059 GMT (8:59 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 9 minutes, 12 seconds. The Titan 4 rocket's second stage has shut down. Standing by for separation of the Titan and the payload.

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

T+plus 8 minutes, 37 seconds. Engine shut down systems enabled on the second stage.

0057 GMT (8:57 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 7 minutes. About two minutes of propulsion remain for the second stage to reach the intended, albeit classified, orbital altitude.

0056 GMT (8:56 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Vehicle performance is still reported nominal.

0056 GMT (8:56 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 6 minutes, 15 seconds. The liquid-fueled second stage engine continues to fire, producing just over 100,000 pounds of thrust.

0055 GMT (8:55 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 5 minutes, 40 seconds. An incredible flash in the sky was seen as the staging occurred.

0055 GMT (8:55 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 5 minutes, 25 seconds. The first stage has shut down and the spent stage has dropped away to fall into the Atlantic Ocean. And the second stage liquid-fueled engine has now ignited to accelerate the payload into orbit!

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

T+plus 4 minutes, 30 seconds. About a minute left in the first stage burn.

0053 GMT (8:53 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The rocket is passing an altitude of 67 miles as it travels 81 miles downrange of the pad on this northeast trajectory.

0053 GMT (8:53 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 16 seconds. The 66-foot long payload fairing enclosing the NRO spacecraft atop the Titan 4B rocket has separated. First stage continues to fire.

0053 GMT (8:53 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 3 minutes. A clean SRB separation is reported. First stage continues to burn.

0052 GMT (8:52 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Solid rocket booster separation! The spent motors will fall into the Atlantic below.

0052 GMT (8:52 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 14 seconds. First stage main engine start. The liquid-fueled engine package is up and burning. The first stage produces about 550,000 pounds of thrust. Engine ignition is a precursor to burnout and separation of the twin solid rocket boosters that have propelled the Titan 4 rocket to this point in the flight.

0051 GMT (8:51 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 1 minute, 30 seconds. All continues to go well with the solid rocket boosters.

0051 GMT (8:51 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 60 seconds. A good flight for the Titan 4 so far.

0050 GMT (8:50 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 45 seconds. A magnificent view of the 168th and last Titan to soar away from Cape Canaveral! The rocket is piercing a fiery trail into the starry night sky.

0050 GMT (8:50 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 35 seconds. The twin solid rocket motors are firing normally on the Titan 4 rocket, giving the vehicle its thrust to escape the grasp of Earth's gravity.

0050 GMT (8:50 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T+plus 15 seconds. The Lockheed Martin Titan 4B rocket is performing its pitch and roll programs to achieve the northeasterly heading to carry its classified National Reconnaissance Office payload into a highly inclined orbit around Earth.

0050 GMT (8:50 p.m. EDT Fri.)

LIFTOFF! The final Titan rocket mission from Cape Canaveral begins as the vehicle clears the tower!

0049 GMT (8:49 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 30 seconds. Guidance is inertial.

0049 GMT (8:49 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 1 minute. The SRBs are armed.

0048 GMT (8:48 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 75 seconds. The Flight Termination System has been armed. The ordnance will be armed in the next few seconds.

0048 GMT (8:48 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 80 seconds. The solid rocket booster electronics have gone to internal power.

0048 GMT (8:48 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 2 minutes. The vehicle's Flight Termination System is transferring to internal power.

0047 GMT (8:47 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 3 minutes. All elements are still reporting "go" status for liftoff at 8:50 p.m.

0046 GMT (8:46 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 4 minutes.

0045 GMT (8:45 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting! The countdown sequence is now being controlled by the Programmable Aerospace Ground Equipment -- the PAGE computer system -- as the final minutes tick away for tonight's on-time launch of Titan 4 B-30 and the clandestine cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Now six minutes from liftoff of Titan 4 and its NRO payload. Standing by to resume the count...

0043 GMT (8:43 p.m. EDT Fri.)

All remains in readiness for liftoff. The launch director has completed the final poll, with no issues reported.

0041 GMT (8:41 p.m. EDT Fri.)

The Air Force-controlled Eastern Range has given its clear to launch. Standing by to resume the countdown in four minutes.

0040 GMT (8:40 p.m. EDT Fri.)

The countdown is now half-way through this scheduled hold point. Lockheed Martin is not reporting any constraints to liftoff.

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

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the planned 10-minute built-in hold. Readiness polls will be performed during this time to ensure all systems are "go" for liftoff. If no glitches crop up, clocks will resume ticking for launch at 8:50 p.m. EDT.

0030 GMT (8:30 p.m. EDT Fri.)

Now 20 minutes to launch. Adding to the update below, the flight azimuth of the launch is 48.5 degrees for this northeasterly trajectory that the Titan 4 will take.

0020 GMT (8:20 p.m. EDT Fri.)

At liftoff 30 minutes from now, the Titan 4B will be powered by the twin solid rocket motors, each producing almost 1.7 million pounds of thrust. Once the launch tower is cleared, the vehicle will perform pitch and roll maneuvers for positioning on the flight azimuth for this launch. Titan will head northeastward away from Cape Canaveral, paralleling the U.S. eastern seaboard.

The first stage main engine package is lit two minutes into flight as the solids burn out and separate. The first stage burns for about three minutes, and then the second stage takes over for a nearly four-minute firing.

The Titan will deploy its classified spy satellite payload into orbit at the conclusion of the 9-minute, 30-second flight.

A more detailed timeline of the launch events is listed here.

0012 GMT (8:12 p.m. EDT Fri.)

Lockheed Martin expects 1,200 guests at the launch tonight, including senior officials, VIPs, former Titan program employees and family members of current workers.

The crowd of news reporters covering the launch from the press site is larger than usual, too. Dozens of media representatives are here to cover this final Titan rocket to launch from Cape Canaveral.

0005 GMT (8:05 p.m. EDT Fri.)

T-minus 35 minutes and counting. Clocks are counting to launch at 8:50 p.m. EDT. The countdown will enter a planned 10-minute hold at the T-minus 5 minute mark, which synchs up the clocks for the target liftoff time.

0001 GMT (8:01 p.m. EDT Fri.)

Underway now are command receiver checks, which are being performing by the Air Force-controlled Range to ensure the rocket could be destroyed if it experienced a problem during launch.

2355 GMT (7:55 p.m. EDT)

Launch pad lights are powering up as darkness falls over Central Florida. Liftoff is just 55 minutes away now.

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

Lockheed Martin says a handful of Range and other technical glitches were addressed a little earlier. But everything has been resolved and there are no problems of note now.

The final weather briefing was just conducted. There is a 100 percent chance of acceptable conditions tonight.

2340 GMT (7:40 p.m. EDT)

A spokesperson characterizes the countdown as smooth and quiet right now as clocks tick off the final 70 minutes to liftoff. It is a gorgeously clear evening here in Central Florida. This should be a beautiful ascent shortly after sunset.

2330 GMT (7:30 p.m. EDT)

Good evening from a windy Cape Canaveral where the countdown is reported to be on schedule for liftoff at 8:50 p.m. EDT. There are no significant technical issues being worked, Lockheed Martin says, and the launch pad has been cleared off all workers.

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

Under brilliant blue skies, the Lockheed Martin Titan 4B rocket stands ready for blastoff from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this evening. The mobile service tower has been retracted, giving everyone their first glimpse of this rocket in its launch-ready state. The white launcher can been seen from miles around, and the pad's powerful flood lights will keep the rocket brilliantly illuminated when the sun goes down tonight.

Unlike other rockets, no fueling activities occur during today's Titan 4 countdown. The first and second stages were fully loaded with storable propellants over the past couple of weeks and the twin strap-on boosters are solid-fueled.

Weather conditions are excellent, and all appears set for liftoff at 8:50 p.m. EDT.

We will begin play-by-play reports live from the press viewing site on the NASA Causeway starting around 7:15 p.m. EDT or so.

2040 GMT (4:40 p.m. EDT)

The 12-million pound, 27-story mobile service tower is slowly rolling away from the Titan 4B rocket at Cape Canaveral's Complex 40 in advance of tonight's planned 8:50 p.m. EDT (0050 GMT) launch.

The tower has enclosed the rocket since it was moved to the launch pad last August. Within the massive structure, the rocket's final assembly occurred as the classifed satellite cargo and nose cone were attached. It also provided access for workers and shielded the vehicle from the weather, including three hurricanes that brushed past the Cape last year.

Essentially a building on wheels, the mobile tower will be moved about 600 feet into its parking spot for launch and then locked down.

Over the next couple of hours, crews are slated to finish buttoning up the launch pad facilities before clearing the complex for the final countdown.

1925 GMT (3:25 p.m. EDT)

The remarkable 9-story hinged door on the mobile service tower's south side is swinging open right now, exposing the top of the Titan 4 rocket for the first time. The door is part of the environmental control system for the pad's cleanroom where satellite payloads are prepared for flight aboard Titan boosters.

Once the door is secured, the mobile tower will be ready for retraction from its current cocoon-like enclosure around the rocket.

The tower stands 266 feet tall and features 20 levels to give technicians access to all areas of the vehicle.

1630 GMT (12:30 p.m. EDT)

Tonight's official launch weather forecast calls for better than a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions.

"Primary concern on Friday, albeit small, would be isolated weak showers along the coast associated with a moderate onshore southeasterly wind," Air Force meteorologists report.

The outlook predicts a few clouds at 3,000 feet and scattered clouds at 28,000 feet, good visibility, southeasterly winds at 12 gusting to 20 knots and a temperature of 70 to 72 degrees F.

"In the event of a 24-hour scrub, expect a slight increase in cloudiness and chance of showers on Saturday and rapidly deteriorating conditions late Sunday as another disturbance approaches Florida," forecasters say.

1545 GMT (11:45 a.m. EDT)

The countdown is underway for tonight's Titan 4B rocket launch. Photographers were at the pad this morning setting up their sound-activated cameras to capture the liftoff. Meanwhile, pad crews are busy making final preparations to roll back the mobile service tower from around the rocket around 3:30 or 4 p.m. EDT.

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

The end of Titan launches from Cape Canaveral has been looming for years, but it becomes reality Friday night when the Space Coast witnesses the final thunderous blastoff of the mighty booster.

The rocket will ride 3.3 million pounds of thrust when it launches from Complex 40 at 8:50 p.m. EDT (0050 GMT) to carry a top-secret spy satellite high above Earth.

As part of the classified nature for this mission, officials have not said how long the evening's launch window remains open. But liftoff will not happen beyond 10:30 p.m. EDT (0230 GMT).

Air Force meteorologists continue to predict near-perfect weather conditions for the space shot, but the outlook deteriorates if the launch slips to backup opportunities this weekend.

"We do expect weather to be good at least though Saturday," said launch weather officer Johnny Weems. "Saturday could get to be marginal in the latter part of the window. And it looks like if we scrub into Sunday, then the weather would start to have a serious impact."

But the focus is flying to space tonight, some eight months after the rocket was rolled from its assembly building to the launch pad. The booster weathered Florida's magnetic attraction with tropical weather last year while enclosed within its pad gantry, experienced recent delays to repair clogs in a ground fuel pump and even saw U.S. government officials forced to ease Canadian concerns about the first stage drop zone near oil rigs off Newfoundland.

"We believe we've closed all of our issues," Lt. Col. Jimmy Comfort, the Air Force launch director, told reporters touring the pad Thursday afternoon.

Yet officials wonder whether another glitch is lurking around the corner.

"We won't be surprised if something comes our way, just because this flow has thrown some of the most creative things our way -- oil platforms, hurricanes and not so cooperative propellant pumps," Comfort joked.

With this Titan 4 flying without an upper stage, team members thought it would be simpler to launch. But that wasn't the case.

"This one was going to be our cakewalk. It is just a booster and a set of solids, and we were going to have an easy time," said Abe Freels, Lockheed Martin program engineer for Titan 4. "Well we've had three hurricanes, one tropical storm, we've had a propellant loading system that was uncooperative. But we've come through all of that. I think tomorrow night we're going to have a very good flight and put a good satellite into orbit."

Mission managers held the final readiness review on Thursday and affirmed all systems were ready to begin the launch countdown Friday morning.

"All that is going on now is they are doing the final walkdowns, buttoning up the last doors, taking closeout photos, securing everything and (adding) last-minute coatings and applications they put on some joints, just wrapping it up," said Ben Dusenbery, Lockheed Martin's director of Titan launch operations at the Cape.

The launch comes as a bittersweet moment for hundreds of workers that will be jobless as the Titan program shuts down this year.

"As I stand here on the pad looking at my rocket, there's not too many more opportunities to do that," said Freels, a veteran of more than 60 Titan launches since joining the program in 1973.

"Walking out of here the last time is going to be hard. It is going to be hard. There's a lot of good memories, a lot of good people I've worked with."

You can watch this page for live reports during the countdown as launch time nears.


All systems are "go" for Friday night's launch of the Titan 4B rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Final readiness reviews by senior managers were accomplished earlier today.

Launch officials have announced that liftoff is targeted for 8:50 p.m. EDT (0050 GMT). The exact duration of the launch window remains a secret, but liftoff will not occur beyond 10:30 p.m. EDT (0230 GMT).

We will provide complete live coverage of the final countdown and launch. Watch this page for updates Friday evening.


Rockets named Titan have been fixtures in the U.S. space program for decades, launching countless military satellites, robotic scouts probing the solar system and even astronauts. But the legacy is ending, leaving hundreds of aerospace workers searching for new jobs. Read our full story.


The final Lockheed Martin Titan 4 rocket to launch from Cape Canaveral will soar up the U.S. eastern seaboard Friday night carrying a mysterious military payload. Read our full story.


With a little ingenuity, elbow grease and help from 3,000 miles away, the Titan 4 rocket team is working to overcome ground equipment headaches that have kept the big booster bolted to its Cape Canaveral launch pad this month instead of flying a classified national security space mission. Read our full story.


The final Titan rocket to fly from Cape Canaveral, originally scheduled for this weekend, is searching for a new launch date after encountering trouble with balky ground equipment. Read our full story.

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