link to Home Page

icon Titan Rocket

US Missile Warning Satellite in Wrong Orbit
BBC Online Network, April 12, 1999

A US missile warning satellite launched by the troubled Titan rocket programme is in the wrong orbit, according to the US Air Force. The $250m Defence Support Programme satellite went up without a hitch from Cape Canaveral on Friday on board the unmanned Titan 4B rocket.

Titan-Launched Satellite in Wrong Orbit
MSNBC, April 11, 1999

A $250 million missile-warning satellite ended up in the wrong orbit following its launch aboard an Air Force Titan rocket, military officials said Saturday night. The Defense Support Program satellite was lifted into orbit Friday for the Defense Department. It was the first Titan IV flight since a spectacular $1 billion launch explosion in August. The rocket performed as planned and the mishap apparently occurred several hours later, said Patsy Bomhoff, a spokeswoman at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. "We don't know what went wrong when," she said. "They're working around the clock and trying to work every angle possible to salvage this satellite." The highly sensitive 2½-ton infrared telescope is designed to detect missile and rocket launches as well as nuclear detonations. It was intended for a 22,300-mile-high orbit. Bomhoff said the satellite separated properly from its upper-stage motor seven hours after Friday afternoon's liftoff. Controllers discovered later in the night, however, that the satellite was in a highly elliptical orbit, she said. Bomhoff said she did not have any additional information, such as the specifics of the orbit.

The Air Force Space Command is convening an investigating board of officers to look into the mishap. The satellite was to have joined other Defense Support Program craft in orbit and begun operating in three to six months. Air Force officials declined before Friday's launch to say how many working DSP satellites are in orbit, but stressed they were providing worldwide coverage. DSP satellites were instrumental in tracking Scud missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The next DSP satellite isn't due to be launched until December. TRW built the satellite. Boeing provided the upper-stage motor. The satellite's errant orbit is the latest setback for a launch of the 2 million-pound Titan, America's most powerful unmanned rocket.
Expensive Disaster
The Titan rocket program was put on hold when a Titan 4A exploded soon after liftoff last Aug. 12, in one of history's most expensive space disasters. The combined cost of the rocket and its top secret spy satellite cargo was put at more than $1 billion. Investigators determined the Titan went out of control and blew up because of a short circuit caused by frayed wiring in the rocket's first stage. The Titan 4B used for Friday's launch was an improved version of the rocket that exploded and would have survived the same electrical glitch, said Col. Jeffery Norton, a director of launch programs for the U.S. Air Force. Nevertheless, the Air Force and Lockheed Martin Corp., which builds the rocket, repeatedly checked its wiring for problems and spent about $30 million on corrective measures. Florida Today's Space Online quoted the Air Force as saying the estimated cost of the launch vehicle was $432 million.
Another Comeback on Hold
Meanwhile, the Boeing Co. rescheduled the launch of a Delta 3 rocket, another launch program that experienced a huge setback last August. The Delta is now due to blast off from Cape Canaveral on April 21, with a 69-minute launch window opening at 9:02 p.m. ET. The $230 million mission to loft an Orion 3 telecommunications satellite into orbit is similar to the one that went awry last year and ended in an explosion destroying the rocket and the PanAmSat Galaxy 10 satellite it was carrying. Engineers blamed last August's problem on a control system that overreacted to normal vibrations during the liftoff. A change in the system's operating rules should take care of the problem, Boeing officials say. The Orion 3 launch was originally scheduled Monday, but it had to be scrubbed twice due to unfavorable weather Monday and a string of 11th-hour glitches Tuesday. The Orion 3 satellite was built by Hughes Space and Communications Co. for Loral Space and Communications Ltd. Orion 3 is scheduled to provide television, Internet and other communications links for the Asia-Pacific region, covering an area from India to Hawaii.