Spaceflight Now: Atlas Launch Report


May 25, 2000 -- Follow the countdown and launch of the inaugural Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket with Eutelsat's W4 communications satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2000

Lockheed Martin officials were still savoring the sweet thrill of success on Thursday, one day after the Atlas 3 rocket flew a perfect inaugural flight. Initial examination of data collected during launch revealed no problems with the rocket or its Russian-made RD-180 engine.

Read our full story.


Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3A -- a rocket born of American and Russian space technology sailed smoothly through its maiden voyage on Wednesday evening, bucking the recent trend of misfortune during inaugural launches. Read our complete launch story.

Also be sure to watch the video clips posted in the right-hand column of this page, and our launch photo gallery.

2352 GMT (7:52 p.m. EDT)

The Eutelsat W4 communications satellite has established contact with ground controllers as planned, confirming its health following tonight's successful launch. Over the coming days, the satellite's onboard kick engine will be fired to raise and circularize its orbit to geostationary altitude 22,300 miles above Earth. The solar arrays will be deployed along with communications antennas too. Following a period of tests and checks, the craft will enter service in June to relay television, business communications and Internet services to Russia and parts of Africa.

See a movie clip of the Atlas 3 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral.

Check back a little later tonight for more video clips, images and a wrap-up story on this successful debut of Atlas 3 -- the first American rocket powered by a Russian-made engine.

2339 GMT (7:39 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 29 minutes. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The W4 communications satellite for Eutelsat has been successfully released into Earth orbit from the Centaur upper stage, completing the maiden flight of Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3A rocket.

The preliminary orbit data looks very accurate, meaning the rocket has done its job correctly today. This was the 50th straight success for the commercial Atlas rocket fleet.

2338 GMT (7:38 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 28 minutes, 30 seconds. Vehicle is spinning up to release the W4 satellite.

2338 GMT (7:38 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 28 minutes. Less than one minute to deployment of the satellite. No problems reported.

2337 GMT (7:37 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 27 minutes. The rocket is reorienting itself in space to prepare for spacecraft deployment.

2336 GMT (7:36 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 26 minutes, 15 seconds. MECO2! The single Centaur engine has shut down as planned, completed the powered phase of this evening's inaugural launch for Atlas 3. Coming up on spacecraft separation in about 2 1/2 minutes.

2335 GMT (7:35 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 25 minutes. About 45 seconds left in the second burn by Centaur to inject the Eutelsat W4 communications satellite into the proper geosynchronous transfer orbit.

2334 GMT (7:34 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 24 minutes. The Centaur firing continues normally as the rocket approaches the Equator.

2333 GMT (7:33 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 23 minutes. Ignition of Centaur. The single RL-10 engine has restarted for a near-four minute firing.

2331 GMT (7:31 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 21 minutes. Now just over 90 seconds away from restart of the Centaur upper stage.

2328 GMT (7:28 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 18 minutes. To repeat, everything appears to be gone very well in tonight's debut launch of the Atlas 3A rocket. No problems have been reported. The next event will be restart of the Centaur upper stage engine in about 4 1/2 minutes. Spacecraft separation is expected in about 11 minutes.

2325 GMT (7:25 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 15 minutes. Lockheed Martin reports the parking orbit is very accurate. The high point is 486 km high and 188 km on the low side, all of which are right near the pre-flight predictions.

2324 GMT (7:24 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 14 minutes. The rocket has now started a quiet coast period through low-Earth orbit before the next firing of the Centaur.

2322 GMT (7:22 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 12 minutes, 40 seconds. MECO 1! The Centaur main engine has cut off as planned, injecting the stage and attached spacecraft into a parking orbit around Earth.

2321 GMT (7:21 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 11 minutes. Just over a minute to go before the first shutdown of the Centaur main engine.

2320 GMT (7:20 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 minutes. The rocket remains very steady and no problems with the RL-10 upper stage engine.

2319 GMT (7:19 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 9 minutes. Just over three minutes to go in the first of two burns by the Centaur engine.

2318 GMT (7:18 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 8 minutes. The Antigua tracking station downrange has picked up the rocket's signal. The Centaur engine continues to fire normally.

2317 GMT (7:17 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 7 minutes. The dogleg maneuver has been completed as the vehicle heads downrange with a velocity of 11,000 miles per hour.

2316 GMT (7:16 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 6 minutes. The rocket continues right down the predicted track with no problems reported in today's maiden flight of the Atlas 3A rocket. The RD-180 performed as expected.

2315 GMT (7:15 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes. All engine operating parameters look good, Lockheed Martin says, for the single Centaur engine.

2314 GMT (7:14 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes. Amazing video from the camera mounted to Centaur shows the upper stage main engine firing and separation of the payload fairing.

2313 GMT (7:13 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 35 seconds. The single Centaur engine has ignited.

2313 GMT (7:13 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 20 seconds. The RD-180 engine has shutdown and the spent Atlas stage has separated!

2313 GMT (7:13 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes. RD-180 engine throttling to keep constant 5.5 g level.

2312 GMT (7:12 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes. "Everything looks good" according to Lockheed Martin. The RD-180 engine operating as expected.

2311 GMT (7:11 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 90 seconds. Throttle complete! A very clean flight reported and stunning video coming back from the onboard camera.

2311 GMT (7:11 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 60 seconds. RD-180 engine firing as planned. Throttle down to ease through the lower atmosphere completed.

2310 GMT (7:10 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 seconds. All systems performing as expected. Vehicle is very quickly accelerating!

2310 GMT (7:10 p.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF. Liftoff of the maiden voyage of Lockheed Martin's Atlas 3A rocket -- a history-making creation born of American and Russian space technology. And the vehicle has cleared the tower.

2309 GMT (7:09 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 31 seconds. Launch Sequence Start. The Atlas 3A rocket's onboard computer is now controlling the countdown.

In the next few seconds the inertial navigation unit's countdown will be started, the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked for flight and the flight data recorders will be readied.

2309 GMT (7:09 p.m. EDT)

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

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

2308 GMT (7:08 p.m. EDT)

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

Shortly, the rocket's inadventant separation destruct safety system will be armed, the Centaur upper stage will go to internal power and the flight termination system will be armed.

2307 GMT (7:07 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. RP-1 kerosene fuel is now flowing into the RD-180 engine -- the first Russian-made engine to power an American rocket to space. The water system is being readied for activation at launch pad 36B.

2306 GMT (7:06 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes. The Atlas booster stage and Flight Termination System are going on internal power.

2305 GMT (7:05 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting. The countdown has resumed for launch of AC-201 -- the inaugural Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket. There are no problems standing in the way of liftoff at 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, beginning a 28-minute, 53-second flight to place the Eutelsat W4 communications satellite into space.

2303 GMT (7:03 p.m. EDT)

Launch Conductor Ed Christiansen has completed his poll of the launch team and all systems are "go" for liftoff. Lockheed Martin Launch Director Adrian Laffitte then gave his approve for tonight's 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) liftoff of the Atlas 3A rocket.

2302 GMT (7:02 p.m. EDT)

The Eutelsat W4 satellite is verified on internal power for launch.

2259 GMT (6:59 p.m. EDT)

The fuel-fill sequence is beginning as RP-1 propellant -- a highly refined kerosene -- is allowed to flow from the Atlas stage storage tank toward the Russian-made RD-180 engine. Now 11 minutes away from launch of the first Atlas 3A rocket.

2257 GMT (6:57 p.m. EDT)

The Eutelsat W4 communications satellite sitting atop the Atlas 3A rocket is now switching to internal power. Launch set for 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) with no problems currently being addressed. Range, rocket and weather are "go".

2255 GMT (6:55 p.m. EDT)

RANGE IS GO! The Range now reports the launch danger area is cleared as a small plane has left the restricted airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, downrange from the launch pad. Countdown clocks will be restarted from T-minus 5 minutes at 7:05 p.m. for liftoff at 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT).

2251 GMT (6:51 p.m. EDT)

ONE MORE LAUNCH TIME! Since the Range cannot be entirely sure the aircraft will be cleared from the restricted launch danger area in time to pickup the countdown to meet the 7:05 p.m. EDT liftoff time, Lockheed Martin has slipped the launch another five minutes. So the new launch time is 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT).

2250 GMT (6:50 p.m. EDT)

The Range says it believes the aircraft will be cleared from the area in order to meet the current launch time. However, a final "go" won't come until just before restarting the count at T-minus 5 minutes.

2245 GMT (6:45 p.m. EDT)

The contingency steering program has been loaded into the Atlas 3A rocket's onboard inertial navigation unit guidance computer. These pitch and yaw steering programs are based upon the latest upper level wind conditions.

2240 GMT (6:40 p.m. EDT)

YES, ANOTHER NEW LAUNCH TIME! New calculations by the Range indicate the small airplane in the launch danger area will not be cleared for at least another 10 minutes. Efforts to contact the aircraft from Jacksonville and Miami air traffic control have been unsuccessful. However, predications show the plane should be out of the restricted area in 10 minutes, based on its speed of about 80 knots and current flight path. The craft is over international waters headed toward Bermuda. So launch is now delayed to 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 GMT).

2235 GMT (6:35 p.m. EDT)

Now 20 minutes away from the current target launch time. Other than the Range's ongoing efforts to clear the launch danger area of one small airplane, there are no other problems to report.

Meanwhile, the launch team is loading the contingency steering program into the rocket's flight computer. This program was generated using newer wind balloon data on upper level wind conditions, allowing the steering program to be usable through the end of tonight's window at 7:58 p.m. EDT (2358 GMT).

2230 GMT (6:30 p.m. EDT)

YET ANOTHER LAUNCH TIME! The Range says it will be another 10 minutes until the small aircraft will depart the launch danger area. As a result, the launch has been delayed to 6:55 p.m. EDT (2255 GMT).

While the wait continues, you can check out our launch timeline to review the events that will occur during this evening's 28-minute, 53-second flight to place the Eutelsat W4 communications satellite into space.

2225 GMT (6:25 p.m. EDT)

With these Range-related delays, the launch team has delayed switching the Eutelsat W4 communications satellite to internal power and starting the RD-180 engine fuel-fill sequence. Once the Range is "go", which is expected in about five minutes, then launch prepartions will resume. Countdown clocks are currently scheduled to pick up at 6:40 p.m. EDT from T-minus 5 minutes for liftoff at 6:45 p.m. EDT (2245 GMT).

2219 GMT (6:19 p.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME! The Range says it needs another 10 minutes to clear the aircraft. So liftoff is now scheduled for 6:45 p.m. EDT (2245 GMT).

2216 GMT (6:16 p.m. EDT)

Lockheed Martin reports an Air Force helicopter scared away the boat from the restricted waters just off the coast of the Cape after the person on the craft initially refused to leave. Meanwhile, the small airplane in the restricted airspace around the Cape is moving at 88 knots and should be out of the area shortly. Launch is currently set for 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT) from pad 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Tonight's window extends to 7:58 p.m. EDT (2358 GMT).

2210 GMT (6:10 p.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME, AGAIN! The boat has been cleared by now a slow-moving airplane has been spotted in the restricted airspace around Cape Canaveral. Launch has slipped back another 10 minutes to escort the aircraft from the area. Liftoff is now scheduled for 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT).

The new time is just 43 seconds before one of tonight's two COLA periods, or collision avoidances. This launch window cutout extends from 6:35:43 to 6:39:54 p.m. EDT to avoid the orbiting Mir space station.

2207 GMT (6:07 p.m. EDT)

The Range reports the troublesome boat was just 100 yards off the coast of Cape Canaveral! It moved a short distance before stopping again. Efforts are continuing to clear it from the restricted safety area. Launch is currently scheduled for no sooner than 6:25 p.m. EDT (2225 GMT).

As for the earlier liquid oxygen depletion measurement concern, that has basically gone away with the launch team manually watching readings from three sensors as opposed to computer monitoring.

2200 GMT (6:00 p.m. EDT)

ANOTHER NEW LAUNCH TIME! Since the Range is still not clear, the launch will be pushed back another 10 minutes. Liftoff is now scheduled for 6:25 p.m. EDT (2225 GMT).

2156 GMT (5:56 p.m. EDT)

The Range is reporting the one boat in the launch danger area has been told several times to pull anchor and clear the area. The boat moved a short distance and stopped, still inside the restricted zone. The Coast Guard is headed to intercept the boat.

Meanwhile, the Anomaly Team has issued its recommendation on the liquid oxyegn depletion error message for the Atlas stage: Disable three Atlas liquid oxygen depletion measurements. The launch team will manually monitor those readings from three sensors.

2153 GMT (5:53 p.m. EDT)

Countdown clocks continue holding at T-minus 5 minutes while a boat is removed from the launch danger zone of the coast off Cape Canaveral. This area must be cleared before the launch can occur to ensure public safety.

If the rocket were to explode, debris and hazardous fuels will shower the Atlantic Ocean below and the U.S. military is responsible to ensure the zone is properly cleared.

See a diagram of the restricted waters for launch.

A tracking camera at the Cape is showing a boat off shore. It is not clear if this is THE boat or not.

Read our earlier Mission Status Center coverage.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 3A (AC-201)
Payload: Eutelsat's W4
Launch date: May 24, 2000
Launch window: 2139-2358 GMT (5:39-7:58 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-36B, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Photo gallery
Launch - Images of the Atlas 3A rocket's inaugural launch.

Video vault
The inaugural Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket launches from Cape Canaveral with the Eutelsat W4 satellite.
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A video camera mounted to the side of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket shows the successful liftoff from Cape Canaveral's pad 36B.
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The Atlas booster stage separates and the payload fairing is jettisoned as seen by a video camera mounted to the side of rocket.
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A camera attached to the Centaur upper stage shows the Atlas booster stage being released and ignition of the RL-10 engine.
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Watch the planned sequence of events as the inaugural Atlas 3A rocket carries the Eutelsat W4 telecommunications satellite into orbit.
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Lockheed Martin's John Karas explains how the Atlas 3A will accelerate from Earth much faster than previous Atlas rockets.
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Learn about the engines and stages of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket that will launch the Eutelsat W4 satellite.
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The Russian RD-180 engine is test fired at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to prepare for use aboard the Atlas 3 rocket.
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The first Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket is assembled at Cape Canaveral's pad 36Bfor the inaugural launch.
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Eutelsat's W4 telecommunications satellite undergoes final pre-launch processing work in Florida.
  PLAY (331k, 50sec QuickTime file)
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Inside the blockhouse

Step inside the historic Complex 36 Blockhouse where the 120 members of the launch team control every countdown and liftoff of Atlas rockets from Cape Canaveral.
  VIEW (286k QuickTime file)
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Pre-launch briefing
Launch preview - Read our story for a complete preview of the first Atlas 3A launch.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Atlas 3A vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch W4 into space.

The RD-180 - Facts and figures about the Russian-built engine to power Atlas 3.

Eutelsat W4 - Description of the satellite to be launched on AC-201.

Launch windows - Available windows for future launch dates of AC-201.

Explore the Net
International Launch Services - Lockheed Martin-led consortium which globally markets the U.S. Atlas and Russian Proton rockets.

Lockheed Martin Astronautics - U.S. company which builds and launches the Atlas family of rockets.

Eutelsat - European Telecommunications Satellite Organization will operate W4.

Alcatel Space - European company that built the Eutelsat W4 satellite.

3rd SLS - U.S. Air Force Space Launch Squadron responsible for the Atlas at Cape Canaveral.