Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rocket fails to put NROL Spy Sats in right orbit

Name: USA 194 (NROL-30/NOSS 3-4 Mission)
International Desig: 2007-027A
SSC #: 31701
Launch Date/Time: 15 Jun 2007/1512 UTC
Launch Site: USAF Eastern Test Range
Launcher: Atlas 5/Centaur Upper Stage
Note: US Air Force Space Command only shows one payload associated with this launch, but there should be two payloads and the rocket bodies.

From the AGI Launch Notification Service:
"An Atlas V rocket blasted out of Cape Canaveral this morning carrying a pair of top-secret spy satellites believed to be used to track ships at sea.

"The rocket's first stage is performed perfectly as it arced out across the Atlantic Ocean, cutting across a nearly-clear blue sky. At payload fairing separation, the National Reconnaissance Office cut public access to the mission control loops so officials could begin working with the deployment of the classified spacecraft.

"The magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology reports that the secret spacecraft are two satellites intended to track ships moving at sea, including those that might hint at terrorist activities or Chinese or Iranian naval tactics. They are being launched for the National Reconnaissance Office."

Amateur video of this military launch can be seen at Latest elsets at the end of story below.

The story below is an update on the mission courtesy of Florida Today.

Rocket fails to put craft in right orbit - Satellites required to boost selves
By John Kelly, Florida Today

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 orbit.

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.

Latest elsets for the NOSS 3-4 mission courtesy of Daniel Deak and the SEESAT gang.
NOSS 3-4 (A)
1 31701U 07027A 07167.06697797 0.00000000 00000-0 00000-0 0 06
2 31701 63.4420 44.9170 0300000 182.7408 177.2592 13.66600000 01
1 70002U 07166.70111494 .00000011 00000-0 20000-4 0 07
2 70002 63.4420 42.8917 0107863 182.7436 177.3009 13.39714521 00