BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the preparations and launch of the Lockheed Martin Titan 4B rocket carrying a classified cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2001

A spying eye was put into the sky Friday by America's mightiest unmanned rocket, probably destined to replace an aging imaging satellite in the country's reconnaissance spacecraft fleet. Read our full story.

2133 GMT (5:33 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 12 minutes, 50 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The NRO confirms the deployment of its top-secret spy satellite from the Titan rocket's second stage. Release occurred 9 minutes and 32 seconds after liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Today's official liftoff time was 2121:01.324 GMT.

Check back later for a full wrap-up story and some quotes from launch officials.

2131 GMT (5:31 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 minutes. There has been no further word on progress of the flight. We are standing by for an update from the Air Force.

2130 GMT (5:30 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 9 minutes, 15 seconds. The second stage should have shut down by this point. Standing by for confirmation.

2127 GMT (5:27 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Staging confirmed. The spent first stage of the Titan 4B rocket has dropped way and the second stage is firing.

2126 GMT (5:26 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes. The 66-foot long payload fairing enclosing the Titan rocket's hush-hush cargo has been jettisoned. Less than 90 seconds left in the first stage burn.

2125 GMT (5:25 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes. The twin solid rocket boosters have burned out and separated from the Titan 4 rocket. The liquid-fueled core first stage has ignited.

2122 GMT (5:22 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 75 seconds. Good chamber pressures reported on the twin solid rocket boosters as the Titan 4B rocket streaks to space.

2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 seconds. The Titan 4 rocket is on its way to orbit carrying a classified spacecraft for the National Reconnaissance Office -- the government agency that operates the U.S. spy satellite fleet.

2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Titan 4B rocket launching a national security spacecraft for America. And the vehicle has cleared the tower.

2120 GMT (5:20 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. The Titan 4B-34 rocket -- nicknamed "Charlotte" -- is "go" for launch.

2120 GMT (5:20 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute. The Range has issued its final "go" for launch.

2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. Sequence start. Computers are now controlling the remainder of the countdown to ready the Titan 4 rocket and ground systems for the liftoff.

2117 GMT (5:17 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes. The final clear-to-launch poll has been conducted with no problems reported. Liftoff remains on track to occur at 2121 GMT.

2115 GMT (5:15 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 6 minutes and counting.

2114 GMT (5:14 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 7 minutes and counting. The spacecraft team has just declared the classified National Reconnaissance Office payload atop the Titan 4B rocket is "go" for launch.

2113 GMT (5:13 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 8 minutes and counting. A final readiness check of the Titan 4 rocket's systems has been conducted and all is still go.

2111 GMT (5:11 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. The terminal countdown has begun for today's launch of the Titan 4B rocket. If any problems crop up, the count can hold at T-minus 6 minutes. However, all systems remain "go" for liftoff at 2121 GMT.

2110 GMT (5:10 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 11 minutes and counting. A readiness poll of the senior launch management team has been performed with everyone reporting a "go" to continue the countdown to liftoff.

2109 GMT (5:09 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 12 minutes and counting. The Titan 4B rocket has been verified ready to enter the final portion of today's countdown. Oxidizer tank pressurization is now complete.

2106 GMT (5:06 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 15 minutes and counting.

2102 GMT (5:02 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 19 minutes and counting. Clocks have resumed after the brief two-minute hold needed to synch up the countdown with the new launch time of 2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT; 2:21 p.m. PDT). Again, the slight delay was ordered to ensure the rocket wouldn't be launched on a path that would pass too close to another object already orbiting Earth.

Meanwhile, oxidizer tank pressurization work is nearing completion.

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

T-minus 19 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered a two-minute hold to synch up with the new liftoff time of 2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT; 2:21 p.m. PDT).

2058 GMT (4:58 p.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME! There is a Collision Avoidance period that prohibits an on-time liftoff today to ensure the rocket doesn't pass too close to an object already in orbit. So there will be a hold in the countdown for two minutes leading to a new launch time of 2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT; 2:21 p.m. PDT).

2051 GMT (4:51 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 27 minutes and counting. The Range reports it is ready to enter terminal count at T-minus 10 minutes.

2049 GMT (4:49 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 minutes and counting. The launch weather officer just reported that all conditions at Vandenberg and along the Titan 4B rocket's southerly flight path are acceptable.

After lifting off, the rocket will head on a 189.9 degree flight azimuth to deliver its classified payload into a sun-synchronous orbit.

2043 GMT (4:43 p.m. EDT)

Work to secure the Space Launch Complex-4 East pad is now finally reported complete. The warning system at the pad has gone to "red" as the countdown enters the final minutes. There has been no word from the Air Force whether liftoff will still happen at 2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT) as planned, or if some delay will be needed to catch up from the time lost earlier in the countdown.

2030 GMT (4:30 p.m. EDT)

Clearing the pad of workers is running a bit behind schedule this afternoon. The extra time needed to manually move a tower boom into the correct launch position is mostly to blame. At this point, a "go" has been given for the tracking and safety system checks with the Titan 4B rocket. And a "go" has also been given to the launch time to begin first and second oxidizer tank pressurization.

2019 GMT (4:19 p.m. EDT)

Now one hour away from the scheduled liftoff time for this 33rd Titan 4B rocket launch, 11th to occur from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

There are still a few workers at the launch pad performing final closeout activities. However, the Air Force just announced that a few extra people will be dispatched to the pad to examine a substance spotted on the rocket's interstage. The team will determine what the substance is and whether it is a constraint to launch.

2012 GMT (4:12 p.m. EDT)

Once the launch pad cleared of personnel, the launch team will next begin first and second oxidizer tank pressurization for the Titan 4B rocket.

2005 GMT (4:05 p.m. EDT)

This very quiet countdown is nearing the home-stretch for a targeted 2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT) liftoff of the Titan 4B rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying a top-secret national security payload. Currently, the final steps in clearing the Space Launch Complex-4 East pad are underway. The last remaining workers at the pad will be leaving the site momentarily and heading behind to the safety parameter.

1945 GMT (3:45 p.m. EDT)

The only significant technical issue being reported at this time is that one stubborn boom on the launch pad's fixed umbilical tower. Earlier today pad workers said the boom wouldn't move properly. As a result, workers are right now manually positioning the boom in the launch configuration.

1939 GMT (3:39 p.m. EDT)

There appears to be some communications problems being worked at Vandenberg. The situation is currently being sorted out in the control center. Otherwise, the countdown continues quietly with nothing much to report.

The weather remains mostly favorable for launch. Although there are low clouds that will produce poor viewing conditions, that won't be a constraint to launch.

1919 GMT (3:19 p.m. EDT)

Now two hours from the planned launch time for the Titan 4B rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, located about 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The countdown is being run by a primary team of about 80 people stationed in the Remote Launch Control Center in Building 8510 on Vandenberg's North Base. In addition, there are dozens of others in the Western Range Control Center and additional buildings at Vandenberg, plus at Los Angeles Air Force Base and rocket-maker Lockheed Martin's Denver plant.

1838 GMT (2:38 p.m. EDT)

Retraction of the mobile service tower has been completed as the countdown continues at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The Titan 4B rocket is now exposed on the launch pad in preparation for today's 2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT) liftoff. Crews at the pad are now beginning tower securing chores.

Workers are also examining a problem with a pad boom that apparently hasn't been moved into the correct position for launch.

1750 GMT (1:50 p.m. EDT)

The behemoth 300-ft tall mobile service tower is being rolled into its parked position for today's liftoff of the Titan 4B rocket from Space Launch Complex-4 East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The tower is essentially a building on wheels, serving as an assembly plant to put the rocket together on the pad, while providing workers access to all areas of the vehicle and giving the Titan 4 shelter from the weather.

Technicians have spent the morning disconnecting various electrical, water and other lines to allow the tower to be retracted. The actual roll takes about a half-hour as the tower moved 300 feet east of the table where the Titan 4 sits.

The SLC-4E pad also has a fixed umbilical tower, which feeds power, fuel and conditioned air to the rocket and its top-secret satellite cargo.

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

The Air Force says the countdown continues for launch today at 2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT). A spokesperson at Vandenberg says there are no issues being worked at this point.

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

The countdown rolls on at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for today's launch of the Titan 4B rocket in just under six hours at 2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT).

The latest update from Launch Weather Officer Capt. Andrew Goodnite indicates there is a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions today. The two concerns are now thick clouds and launch drift winds.

"The upper level low that has been to our west all week is moving east and will be over our area on launch day. Expect thickening upper level clouds progressing over Vandenberg throughout the day. If these clouds are greater than 4500 ft thick and are between the 0 degrees Celsius and -20 degrees Celsius levels, they would violate the Thick Cloud Layer Constraint. Also, expect thick marine layer clouds to remain over the entire base throughout the day, although not a launch constraint, viewing pleasure will be low. Surface winds will be from the northwest at 10 to 14 knots with upper level winds from the northwest; expect maximum winds from 25 to 35 knots at 35,000 feet."

The launch time forecast calls for stratus clouds at 500 feet with tops at 1,600 feet and 8/8ths sky coverage, cirrostratus clouds at 20,000 feet with tops at 24,000 feet and 7/8ths sky coverage, seven miles visibility, northwesterly winds from 300 to 330 degrees at 10 gusting to 14 knots and a temperature of 55 to 58 degrees F.

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

GO FOR LAUNCH! After a thorough 90-minute technical meeting between senior managers and engineers that just concluded moments ago, a final "go" was given to launch a Titan 4B rocket on Friday at 2119 GMT (5:19 p.m. EDT; 2:19 p.m. PDT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket is carrying a spy satellite that experts believe is a Keyhole-type imaging spacecraft.

The cause of the stray voltage, which was the most recent technical glitch, was determined to be moisture on an umbilical line connecting to the rocket. That has been dried, clearing the constraint.

The launch team has started the countdown. Routine pre-launch activities will continue overnight leading to the milestone event of rolling the pad's massive mobile service tower away from the Titan 4B rocket at approximately 1649 GMT (12:49 p.m. EDT; 9:49 a.m. PDT).

Once the tower is secured in its launch position, workers will finish prepping the pad for the rocket's blastoff and then clear the area. The final couple of hours of the countdown will be fairly straightforward with the focus on status checks, arming onboard systems for flight and switching the vehicle to internal power.

The weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions with the only concern being thick clouds.

Watch this page for play-by-play live coverage during Friday's countdown and launch!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2001
2200 GMT (6 p.m. EDT)


Meetings are being held throughout the day at Vandenberg today. An announcement on whether to proceed with a Friday launch attempt is expected late this evening.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

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Flight data file
Vehicle: Titan 4B (B-34)
Payload: Classified NRO cargo
Launch date: October 5, 2001
Launch time: 2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-4E, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

Pre-launch Briefing
Launch preview - Our story giving launch overview and guess of payload identity.

The rocket - Overview of the Titan 4 launch vehicle.

Titan 4 history - Chart with listing of previous Titan 4 flights.


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