Latest order boosts Atlas V commercial launch total to six as competing Delta IV passes engine milestone

Telesat Canada has awarded Lock-heed Martin Commercial Space Systems a contract to build the Nimiq 2 high power direct broadcast communications satellite. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin-led International Launch Services (ILS) has won the launch deal for the spacecraft, which will fly on an Atlas V booster next year. The deal pushes the Atlas V's commercial launch order book to six.

The Atlas V, along with Boeing's Delta IV, is being built for the US Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) programme, but is also being offered in the commercial market. An ILS Proton is an option for the Nimiq mission.

The Ku- and Ka-band satellite will be based on a Lockheed A2100AX spacecraft bus, and located at 91°W in geostationary orbit.

"Reliability is the key buying criteria," says Mark Albrecht, ILS president, adding that although the Atlas V has not flown yet, it can take advantage of the "halo effect of the Atlas family heritage".

The Atlas V is an uprated Atlas IIIA booster which has flown just once, in May 2000. The Russian-based RD-108 first stage engine proved its versatility on the maiden flight, says Albrecht, which removed 85% of the Atlas V risk. The main difference with the Atlas V is that it has a structurally stable core stage rather than the traditional pressure stabilisation of previous Atlas stages.

Of its competitors, Sea Launch has six successful missions and one failure behind it, while the Boeing Delta IV will use an unproven, new Rocketdyne S-68 cryogenic first stage engine, Albrecht says.

Meanwhile, the 66,000lb-thrust (293kN) RS-68 flight engine has completed its flight acceptance hot-fire tests at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Mississippi.

The cryogenic liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen engine is the first to be developed by the USA since the Space Shuttle Main Engine. The maiden flight of the USAF EELV Delta IV medium booster is scheduled for next May.

Source: Flight International