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ULA launch scheduled for Thursday

By Eric Fleischauer 340-2435

United Launch Alliance will launch its first Atlas V rocket Thursday at 8:37 p.m., if all goes as planned.

Lockheed Martin Corp. built the Atlas V, but ULA — the new joint venture between the rocket divisions of Lockheed and Boeing Co. — is responsible for the launch. ULA's Decatur facility, which employs 650, is building a production line for the Atlas V.

The rocket will launch six satellites for the Department of Defense Space Test Program from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

2 low orbits

The launch window extends until 10:42 p.m. The satellites will be deployed in two different low-earth orbits, a first for an Atlas V.

The two main satellites are designed to study the feasibility of an orbiting robotic system that can refuel and service other satellites.

The first, the Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter, is a prototype servicing spacecraft.

The other, called NexSat, is designed to be serviced by ASTRO.

Experimental satellites

The rocket also will deploy experimental satellites for the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The launch was originally scheduled for Feb. 22. It was delayed after a booster failure in a Sea Launch rocket. The Sea Launch and Atlas V have similar engines, so ULA wanted to study whether the failure suggested problems that could impact the Atlas V.

This would be the ninth Atlas V launch and the 80th consecutive successful launch of an Atlas-series rocket.

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