ILS schedule ASTRA 1KR – sign USAF launch

by Chris Bergin

International Launch Services (ILS) have announced that they have received authorization from the U.S. Air Force to proceed with the launch of a military weather satellite on an Atlas V vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch is scheduled for late 2007 with a spacecraft built for the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

ILS have also scheduled the launch of the ASTRA 1KR satellite on an Atlas V vehicle for April 2006 – from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The USAF mission was assigned to Lockheed Martin through ILS under the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. This is the ninth of 16 assignments to be placed under a firm contract with go-ahead for launch.

‘This will be the first flight of DMSP on Atlas V,’ ILS President Mark Albrecht said. ‘We look forward to partnering again with our Air Force customer on an important mission that will aid and protect the men and women serving our country in all branches of the military.’

The Atlas V vehicle will launch in the ‘401’ configuration, standing 57 meters (188 feet) tall with a 4-meter-diameter (13.75-foot) payload fairing. Atlas V vehicles in this configuration flew successfully in August 2002, May 2003 and August 2005.

DMSP spacecraft are used for strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air. Equipped with sophisticated sensors that operate in both the visible and infrared spectra to peer through cloud cover, the satellite collects specialized meteorological, oceanographic and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions. Since 1965, 43 Lockheed Martin-built DMSP satellites have been launched successfully by the Air Force.

Lockheed Martin has refurbished Space Launch Complex (SLC) 3-East at Vandenberg to accommodate the Atlas V vehicle. The first launch scheduled from the new pad is a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office in 2006. Launches from Vandenberg are used primarily to place satellites into low-earth, high-inclination orbits, such as polar and sun-synchronous orbits.

The ASTRA 1KR satellite will be the first Atlas mission for SES ASTRA of Luxembourg, which is a longtime customer of International Launch Services (ILS), of McLean, Va. ILS markets launch missions on Lockheed Martin’s Atlas rocket and the Khrunichev-built Proton vehicle to satellite operators worldwide.

The ASTRA 1KR mission results from contractual arrangements signed last year for launches of three satellites for SES GLOBAL companies. The companies agreed to use a mix of Atlas and Proton vehicles to provide flexibility in accommodating satellite readiness and meeting schedule demands.

Under the original agreement SES ASTRA was to launch ASTRA 1L on a Proton vehicle. It subsequently changed the payload to ASTRA 1KR, which like the other satellites covered by the launch agreements are A2100 models built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems. The ASTRA mission now has been switched to an Atlas V-411 vehicle.

ILS President Mark Albrecht said, ‘We are pleased that SES ASTRA is joining a long list of successful Atlas customers.’ He pointed out that the Atlas family has achieved 100 percent reliability since mid-1993, launching both government and commercial payloads.

Martin Halliwell, SES ASTRA chief technology officer, said: ‘This is the first time that SES ASTRA chose an Atlas rocket for the launch of a new satellite. Thanks to the great experience that other SES companies have with Atlas and our own long-term relationship with the ILS team, we are confident that the launch of ASTRA 1KR will be successful.’

While this is the first ASTRA satellite to use an Atlas vehicle, SES ASTRA has used ILS Proton vehicles for six launches. In addition, 10 satellites for SES AMERICOM’s fleet have used a mix of Atlas and Proton vehicles. An SES affiliate, AsiaSat, also has used both vehicles, and the launch for another affiliate, SES SIRIUS AB, was awarded to Proton this year.

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