The final Titan rocket tofly from Cape Canaveral, originally scheduledfor this past weekend, is searching for a new launch date after encounteringtrouble with balky ground equipment.
Liftoff of the LockheedMartin Titan 4B booster from Complex 40 carrying a classified national securitypayload was supposed to happen sometime between 8 and 10:30 p.m. EDT Sunday.But difficulties loading storable propellants into the first and second stagesearlier this week forced delays to Monday, then Tuesday and now the Air Forcehas no official target date selected.
Problems cropped up whentechnicians were preparing to pump Aerozine 50 fuel-- a mixture of hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethyl-hydrazine-- and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer into the twostages. But gremlins in the ground equipment scuttled the timeline.
"We've had a couple ofhardware issues with our ground support equipment that has just caused us somedelays," Ben Dusenbery, Lockheed Martin'sdirector of Titan launch operations at Cape Canaveral, said in an interview lastweek.
The first and second stageshave since been filled with the Aerozine 50propellant. However, problems with the hardware used for loading the nitrogen tetroxide have persisted.
Officials noted that theglitches reside in the pad systems and not the Titan 4 rocket itself.
"It is amazing -- therocket sits there and it is darn ready to go, but we have a couple of groundissues we have to work through," Lt. Col. Jimmy Comfort, commander of the3rd Space Launch Squadron at the Cape and the Air Force launch director, saidin an interview.
"The good news is itis not flight hardware," Comfort added. "It is actually ourpropellant loading unit on the ground we are trying to work through."
"Pretty minor itemsbut aggravating (when) trying to maintain a schedule," Dusenberysaid. "The customer has been very understanding. They want us to when weare ready to go -- no sooner, no later. They are not pressing us hard, they are trying to be very understanding andcooperative."
This launch will place asecret cargo into space for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, which isthe government agency responsible for the country's classifiedintelligence-gathering spacecraft.
The rocket features noupper stage kick booster, such as a Centaur or Inertial Upper Stage that wereused in many past Floridaflights. It will take just 9 minutes, 30 seconds for the vehicle to propel itsclandestine payload into a highly-inclined orbit on the combined power of theliquid-fueled first and second stages and a pair of strap-on solid rocketboosters.
The $411 million rocketwill be the 27th and final Titan 4 to launch from Cape Canaveral and the 168th overall in the almost 50-year history ofthe Titan family dating back to the Titan 1 intercontinental ballistic missile.
California's Vandenberg Air Force Base playshost to the planned July 10 liftoff of the last-ever Titan 4, which will sendthe Titan name into retirement. That mission carries an NRO spacecraft, too.
As the most advanced andpowerful of the Titan program, the Titan 4s have been around since 1989,lofting hefty military and spy satellites and even NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft.
The Evolved ExpendableLaunch Vehicles now in service -- Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 and Boeing's Delta4 -- were built to replace Titan 4 as the primary way to launch large payloadsinto orbit. The new rockets are meant to be far more affordable.
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Justin Ray is the former editor of the space launch and news site Spaceflight Now, where he covered a wide range of missions by NASA, the U.S. military and space agencies around the world. Justin was space reporter for Florida Today and served as a public affairs intern with Space Launch Delta 45 at what is now the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station before joining the Spaceflight Now team. In 2017, Justin joined the United Launch Alliance team, a commercial launch service provider.