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A busy – and mixed – week for launchers

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 16, 2008
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This was a busy week for launchers – and not an entirely successful one.

On Tuesday, the space shuttle Endeavour rocketed into orbit with its seven member crew. Despite some initial fears of a debris strike, a check turned up nothing of concern on the orbiter, which linked up with the International Space Station on Thursday.

That same day, an Atlas V placed a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This marked the first launch of the heavy-lift Atlas V from the California rocketport. Atlas V is built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

On Friday, the upper stage of a Proton M launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome malfunctioned during its second burn. The AMC-14 communications satellite was stranded in an elliptical transfer orbit with an apogee of 28,000 kilometers, far short of geosynchronous orbit.

Russian officials held out hope that the Lockheed-built DISH Network satellite could use its own engines to reach the proper orbit. The satellite’s owner, SES Americom, will need to make a decision about what to do.

Early Saturday morning, a Delta 2 rocket lit up the darkened skies as it blasted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a Block 2 GPS spacecraft. The rocket placed the Lockheed-built payload into a transfer orbit 68 minutes later. This was the second successful launch by ULA in as many days.

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