Tim Furniss/LONDON

Lockheed Martin is completing assembly of the first US Air Force Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), AV-001, in Denver, Colorado. The company says the vehicle will be launched from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida in "the second quarter of 2002".

Lockheed-led International Launch Services (ILS) says it "might have a commercial payload for the maiden flight, or it may be a government launch awarded via the EELV programme, but it will be for a paying customer". There are no plans for a demonstration with a dummy payload.

The first officially scheduled EELV launch is to be made by a Boeing Delta IV in May2002, carrying a US Air Force Defense Space Communications Satellite (DSCS). The Atlas V is on standby to make this flight if the Delta IV is not ready. Boeing plans to fly a commercial or company-funded demonstration launch of the Delta IV early next year, before the EELV mission (Flight International, 20-26 March).

The Atlas V booster comprises a common core booster (CCB), stacked with the traditional Atlas Centaur-class liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen upper stage. The CCB is powered by an RD-180 liquid oxygen/kerosene engine based on the Russian RD-170 powerplant.

Meanwhile, the USAF EELV programme office has awarded Lockheed Martin and Boeing $75 million add-on Atlas V and Delta IV launch reservations to enable one of the companies to launch a US Navy UHF satellite in 2003.

Boeing has 22 EELV commitments and Lockheed Martin eight. Lockheed Martin emphasises that the EELV launches "are just assignments, not firm contracts for the primary choice of rocket".

NASA is adding Lockheed Martin's Athena II solid propellant satellite launchers to its National Launch Services contract, which initially included only Boeing Delta and Lockheed Martin Atlas vehicles.

Source: Flight International