International Launch Services (ILS) has received confirmation of its first Atlas V launch under a seven-flight US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) contract. Atlas V will carry the Boeing-built Wideband Gapfiller Satellite 2 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December 2004.

The first Atlas V flew on a commercial mission in August 2002 and the second commercial launch was being prepared at Canaveral, carrying the Greek-led Hellas-Sat communications satellite. However, the scheduled 14 March launch of the Hellas-Sat has been cancelled after Lockheed Martin identified an issue with welds on the aft bulkhead of the Centaur upper stage. A replacement bulkhead will have to be shipped from Denver to Cape Canaveral.

The Hellas-Sat had replaced the Canadian Nimiq communications satellite, which has been switched to a Russian Proton launch. Meanwhile, the ILS launch of Americom's AMS 9 communications satellite has been delayed until May pending a decision whether to equip its Russian Proton booster with a DM or Breeze M upper stage.

US Air Force undersecretary Peter Teets says the USA needs a new, small expendable launch system that will be more "operationally responsive" than the Atlas V and Boeing Delta IV. The USA needs to reduce cycle times "from weeks and months to hours and days," he says. Teets wants an easily erected "missile deployment type" system using available technology and is eeking a contractor to help define the characteristics.

Source: Flight International