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Atlas Launches Classified Payload.
An Atlas IIAS rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California this morning at 1004 UTC (5:04 am EST), carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Although no details about the payload were disclosed, industry experts believe it was probably contained two or three Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) spacecraft, which track and identify boats on the ocean. This was the 67th consecutive successful Atlas flight.
An Atlas IIAS rocket successfully lifted off today at 2:04 a.m. PST (10:04 GMT) from this West Coast launch site, releasing a national security payload into transfer orbit 74 minutes later.
The launch was provided by McLean, Va.-based International Launch Services (ILS), from Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 3E, for the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Designated AC-164, this was the fourth Atlas mission this year, and the 67th consecutive successful Atlas flight. It also was ILS’ fifth mission of 2003.
"ILS is honored to have a major role in enhancing our nation’s security, having now launched five NRO payloads," said ILS President Mark Albrecht. "ILS and Lockheed Martin share a long and valued partnership with the Office of Space Launch, and we take great pride in providing mission success."
Albrecht added: "Now we’re working toward NRO launches in 2004, 2005 and beyond, on Atlas III and Atlas V boosters from both Cape Canaveral, Fla., and from Vandenberg. With Atlas V capability at both coasts, we look forward to meeting NRO mission requirements well into the next decade."
Lockheed Martin Corp. builds the Atlas family of rockets. Today’s vehicle, the Atlas IIAS, can lift 8,200 pounds to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The Atlas III can lift up to 9,920 pounds, and the current -production Atlas V is available in a range of configurations to lift payloads up to 19,000 pounds. Today’s mission was the final West Coast flight of the Atlas IIAS vehicle. Lockheed Martin soon will begin refurbishing Complex 3E, to accommodate Atlas V operations starting in 2005.
The Atlas V family is designed both for ILS commercial missions and to meet the U.S. Air Force requirements for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The Atlas V vehicle has flown three commercial missions, all successfully. The first U.S. government Atlas V mission is set for 2005 with the Wideband Gapfiller satellite #2 for the Air Force.
ILS is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. that markets and manages government and commercial missions on the Atlas rocket to customers worldwide. The company is headquartered near Washington, D.C.
The Atlas rockets and their Centaur upper stages are built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Denver, Colo.; Harlingen, Texas; and San Diego, Calif.
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