Tim Furniss/LONDON

Inmarsat Ventures is finalising a deal with International Launch Services (ILS) to use Atlas Vs to launch two of its new satellites in late 2003 and 2004. At the same time, ILS is in negotiations with two potential commercial customers for the maiden Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Atlas V flight in May 2002.

Uprated versions of the Ariane 5 are also being considered for the launch of the 6,100kg (13,400lb) Inmarsat-4 satellites. The Sea Launch and the present Ariane 5 have been eliminated from the competition because they cannot match the 6,100kg to geostationary transfer orbit capability of the Atlas V.

Three Inmarsat-4s, one of which is a spare, are being built by Astrium under a $700 million contract. Inmarsat says it is "looking at a variety of [launch] systems and expects to make an announcement very soon".

Lockheed Martin Space Systems has, meanwhile, completed the assembly and roll-out of the first Atlas V booster and its Centaur upper stage at its Denver, Colorado factory. The first stage is being powered by a US-Russian AMROSS RD-180 engine.

The Centaur tank was built at Lockheed's San Diego factory and shipped to Denver with the Pratt &Whitney RL-10A-4-2 engine. The identical tank design will fly on the first Atlas IIIB to be launched later this year.

The AV-001 ELV was built as part of the US Air Force programme. It will be delivered to the former Titan IV refurbished Lockheed Martin launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral for its maiden flight in the second quarter of 2002 on the sixth new Atlas configuration mission in 12 years.

The vast majority of components on the Atlas V are based on Atlas III flight-proven technologies. The maiden Atlas III flight was made in May 2000.

Source: Flight International