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New Generation Rocket Hits Skies

THE NATION

Aerospace: Atlas 5 offers shorter launching window, and is built to carry heavier payloads.

August 22, 2002|From Reuters

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Lockheed Martin Corp. successfully launched its newest rocket Wednesday on a mission heralding a new era of heavy-lifting launching vehicles for the next generation of satellites.

Lockheed Martin has more than $1 billion invested in the Atlas 5, which roared off into mostly clear skies with a European communication satellite.

Liftoff was on schedule at 6:05 p.m. EDT, Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Julie Andrews said.

"We've got a perfect, fantastically successful launch," Andrews said after the separation of the rocket from the Eutelsat Hot Bird 6 spacecraft, 31 minutes after the 191-foot-tall Atlas 5 took off.

The Atlas 5 was rolled onto the launching pad Tuesday. Normally an unmanned rocket would spend weeks, if not months, on the pad in preparation for liftoff. But quick turnaround is just one new feature of this rocket, which Lockheed Martin promises its customers can be brought to the pad from its vehicle integration building 12 hours before the scheduled liftoff.

Lockheed Martin is betting it can reduce launch pad logjams, where a problem with one payload or rocket on the pad means delays for clients downstream.

The Atlas 5 is designed to withstand hurricane-threshold winds and to launch from a "clean" pad, one without the steel-girder launching towers seen since the dawn of the Space Age.

"We have a much more reliable product. It's very robust," John Karas, Lockheed Martin's vice president for Atlas 5 development, said before the launching.

The Atlas 5's first-stage engines are built near Moscow by Energia, the same Russian company that builds Soyuz spacecraft and modules for the international space station.

The Atlas 5 class of rockets use a common booster stage, fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen, and a Centaur upper stage powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The stripped-down version, like the one that debuted Wednesday, can carry a 28,000-pound payload into orbit.

Beefed up with five strap-on solid-fuel boosters and a second Centaur engine, the new Atlas 5 can lift 45,000 pounds, nearly twice the capacity of the last generation of Atlas rockets.

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