Atlas V one step closer to launch
Lockheed Martin announced that its Atlas V launch vehicle in late May passed "a significant test on the launch pad," as it prepares for its debut launch this summer.
The Atlas team successfully completed the second "wet dress rehearsal," which is a practice countdown for actual launch, according to Lockheed. The first WDR was conducted the week of March 11.
Lockheed, with its Atlas V, and Boeing, with its Delta IV, are the main contractors to the U.S. Air Force for its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, and compete for launches. The first Delta IV launch also is scheduled for this summer.
"Including lessons learned from our first WDR, the Atlas team accomplished all of the major test objectives we had set out for the second practice countdown," Adrian Laffitte, director-Atlas launch programs for Lockheed, said in a press release. "This WDR presented some challenges to the team, which is just what these rehearsals are meant to do. It really gives us the feel of an actual launch day."
According to industry newsletter Defense Daily, during the rehearsal, the Atlas V, designated AV-001, rolled to the pad early the morning of May 15 on its mobile launch platform from the vertical integration facility, and the process of loading the super-cold liquid propellants onboard the booster and Centaur upper stage began.
A pressure reading halted the countdown when it was about 80 percent complete. The problem was fixed and the countdown successfully resumed two days later, according to Defense Daily. The wet dress rehearsal concluded with a roll back to the vertical integration facility from the launch pad, Defense Daily reported.
In a separate report, Defense Daily said the U.S. Air Force is reviewing the EELV program to reduce common points of failure between the two families of rockets and keep both contractors in the program.
Peter Teets, under secretary of the U.S. Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, told the publication that one large common point of potential failure is the fact that both systems use the same upper-stage RL-10 engine built by Pratt & Whitney.
Teets concludes that if there was a problem with one of those engines in one launcher, it's possible both Delta and Atlas vehicles would have to stand down for an investigation.
Pratt & Whitney has offered suggestions for changing the engine to reduce
the potential for problems, Teets noted. In addition, he said, at some
point the United States may want to consider development of a new cryogenic
upper-stage engine, which has not been done in 40 years.
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