VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., March 13, 2008 -- Adding to the Atlas rocket's legacy of launches from the west coast that began in 1959, United Launch Alliance's Atlas V made its debut flight from Space Launch Complex-3 East here at 3:02 a.m. PDT, today. It carried a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload. The launch ushers in a new era of space launch capability for the Air Force and ULA as part of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. For Atlas V, today's success builds on 12 previous Atlas V launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., starting in 2002.
"This is a proud moment in our company's history," said Michael Gass, ULA President and Chief Executive Officer. "This launch caps four years of planning and hard work modifying SLC-3E and then executing an outstanding launch campaign leading to this successful first launch. We now have a sixth operational launch complex giving us three each at Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral for our Atlas and Delta vehicles. Combine this with the most experienced team in the business and ULA has built the strongest space launch company in the world."
Modifications to SLC-3E to support an Atlas V vehicle began more than four years ago when a 22-month development program was initiated. Construction began Jan. 5, 2004 and was completed March 31, 2005. Major elements of the modification included raising the height of the mobile service tower by 30 feet; building a new 250-ton fixed launch platform; installing a new 60-ton bridge crane; replacing the ground command, control, and communication system; and finishing work on new and refurbished launch control and mission support centers.
"The new SLC-3E combines the best features of the previous SLC-3E architecture and the new systems for the Atlas V, yielding a state-of-the-art complex to meet our customer's needs, today and in the future," said Jim Sponnick, ULA Vice President of Atlas Programs. "SLC-3E is a major accomplishment for the Atlas team in partnership with the Air Force and the NRO, and we are proud to demonstrate its capabilities by launching this important NRO mission to support national defense."
This mission, designated AV-006, was launched aboard an Atlas V 411 configuration using the Common Core Booster powered by the RD-180 engine and one strap-on solid rocket motor. This Atlas V flight marked the 209th RD-180 firing. The 12 previous Atlas V launches included two missions for NASA, two for the NRO, two for the Air Force, and six for commercial customers.
ULA's next launch, currently scheduled for March 15 with a launch window of 2:09-2:23 a.m. EDT, is the GPS IIR-19 satellite for the Air Force aboard a Delta II rocket from SLC-17A at CCAFS, Fla.
ULA program management, engineering, test, and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver, Colo., and supported by transition employees in Huntington Beach, Calif. Manufacturing, assembly, and integration operations are located at Decatur, Ala., Harlingen, Texas, San Diego, Calif., and Denver, Colo. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.