Hot Bird 6 communications satellite will supply payload for booster's maiden flight

Lockheed Martin has assembled the first 8m- (26ft) tall Atlas V 400 series booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida, while Boeing, preparing for Delta IV launches from California's Vandenberg AFB, has launched a Delta II from the West-Coast base.

The Atlas V AV-001 has been erected on its mobile launch stand in the vertical integration building adjacent to launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral in preparation for the programme's maiden flight, carrying Eutelsat's Hot Bird 6 communications satellite next May.

The Atlas V is part of the US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) programme, and is manifested for five USAF flights and six commercial launches.

The new booster is essentially an Atlas IIIB powered by a US-Russian Amross RD-180 first stage engine, with a stretched Centaur upper stage. It has the option of flying one or two Pratt & Whitney RL-10A-4-2 cryogenic engines.

The Atlas V includes a newpayload fairing. A launch will involve full thrust on the first stage and added burn-time for the Centaur stage, leading to an initial 4.95t to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) capability compared with 4.5t for the Atlas IIIB.


A 25% increase in the Atlas V's mass will result from the use of a structurally stable-core stage rather than the pressure stabilisation of previous Atlas stages. The Atlas IIIB has not yet flown, while the Atlas IIIA has flown only once. Both vehicles could be replaced by the Atlas V fleet earlier than expected.

A potential Atlas V 500 series equipped with an extended payload shroud and up to five strap-on solid boosters would increase GTO capability to 8.65t.

Meanwhile, refurbishment of Vandenberg's SLC-6 launch pad to accommodate the Boeing Delta IV EELV has begun, with work due for completion in 2003.

The pad - one of the least used in history - was built to launch the US Air Force Manned Orbital Laboratory in the 1960s, but the project was cancelled and the pad modified to launch the Space Shuttle on polar orbiting military missions. The Shuttle was poised for the first launch from Vandenberg in 1986, but after the Challenger accident, Shuttle launches from the there were scrapped.

The 18 October Delta II launch from Vandenberg carried DigitalGlobe's (formerly EarthWatch), QuickBird commercial remote-sensing satellite. QuickBird will offer 610mm (24in) resolution panchromatic images and 2.44m resolution multi-spectral products.

The next Delta II launch is due for 7 December, also from Vandenberg, on a delayed mission to place NASA's Timed and the US-French Jason 1 satellites into orbit.

Source: Flight International