Rocket fails to put craft in right orbit (NOSS)

From: Greg Williams (
Date: Sat Jun 16 2007 - 15:24:03 EDT

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    Rocket fails to put craft in right orbit
    Satellites required to boost selves
    A pair of top-secret ocean surveillance spacecraft blasted off from Cape 
    Canaveral on Friday morning, but the Atlas 5 rocket's upper stage failed 
    to deliver them to the targeted orbit.
    The Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, the clandestine 
    agency in charge of the United States' spy satellites, confirmed a 
    performance problem with the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas 5 rocket.
    However, the NRO said it is "confident in the performance of its mission."
    The trade publication Aviation Week & Space Technology offered details.
    The magazine said the two spacecraft, which it identified as ocean 
    surveillance satellites, separated from the Centaur upper stage.
    However, the Centaur's second engine firing did not last long enough, 
    leaving the spacecraft short of the intended target.
    The magazine reported the two satellites had enough propellant of their 
    own to maneuver into the appropriate higher orbit.
    If the spacecraft have to use their own propellant to boost their 
    orbits, it will reduce the satellites' useful on-orbit lifetime.
    The Atlas 5 blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Pad 41 
    at 11:12 a.m., arcing out across the Atlantic Ocean bound for a secret 
    Details about the spacecraft, flight path and target destination were 
    kept secret by the government.
    Early in the day, the government and Atlas 5 team reported the 
    spacecraft successfully separated from the launch vehicle.
    However, by late evening, a statement was issued, indicating that the 
    rocket's upper stage did not perform as designed.
    The Air Force said the Centaur "had a technical anomaly which resulted 
    in minor performance degradation."
    The Air Force and NRO would not elaborate. United Launch Alliance would 
    not comment.
    The Air Force, which manages the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle 
    program under which the Atlas flies, launched an investigation.
    Friday's countdown was relatively smooth. Late in the countdown, the 
    launch team studied an issue related to a liquid hydrogen valve and 
    pushed the launch back eight minutes while engineers made sure that the 
    problem would not hamper the flight.
    The Atlas family of launch vehicles had tallied 80 consecutive successes 
    prior to the launch of the super-secret NRO payload on Friday.
    The Atlas string of successes date back to 1993, when an Atlas 
    first-stage engine failure left a Navy communications satellite in the 
    wrong orbit.
    Back-to-back Atlas missions went awry in April 1991 and August 1992 when 
    Centaur upper-stage engines suffered nearly identical failures.
    Commercial communications satellites were lost on both missions.
    A Centaur upper-stage failure during an April 1999 Titan 4 rocket 
    mission left a $1 billion Milstar military communications satellite useless.
    -- Dishnut-P
    Gregory S. Williams
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