Encyclopedia Astronautica
Atlas IIIA



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Atlas 2AR
Credit: © Mark Wade
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Atlas IIIA / Atlas I
Credit: © Mark Wade
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RD-180
Credit: Lockheed Martin
American orbital launch vehicle. The Atlas IIIA was a development of the Atlas using Russian engines in place of the Rocketdyne MA-5 booster/sustainer group used on all previous models. It was the centerpiece of Lockheed Martin's strategy to remain a leader in the commercial launch services industry. However customers never materialized, and it was used for only two launches in 2002-2004 before being replaced by the Atlas V.

The first stage coupled the unique Atlas balloon tanks and high performance Glushko engines. In a typical Atlas IIIA launch, the vehicle's two RD-180 thrust chambers were ignited shortly before liftoff. Pre-programmed engine thrust settings were used during booster ascent to minimize vehicle loads by throttling back during peak transonic loads in the high dynamic pressure region while otherwise maximizing vehicle performance. Just over two minutes into flight, as the vehicle reached an axial acceleration of 4 g's, the engines began to throttle back, eventually initiating a constant throttle rate to sustain acceleration at 5.5 g's. Booster engine cutoff occurred approximately three minutes into flight and was followed by separation of Centaur from Atlas.

The first Centaur burn lasted about nine minutes after which the Centaur and its payload coasted in a parking orbit. During the first burn, approximately ten seconds after ignition, the payload fairing was jettisoned. The second Centaur ignition occurred about 23 minutes into the flight, continued for about three minutes, and was followed several minutes later by the separation of the spacecraft from Centaur. Major suppliers included: NPO Energomash / Pratt & Whitney - Atlas RD-180 engines; Pratt & Whitney - Centaur engines; Honeywell - Inertial Navigation Unit; BF Goodrich - Digital acquisition system; SAAB - Payload Separation Systems.

LEO Payload: 8,640 kg (19,040 lb). Payload: 4,055 kg (8,939 lb) to a GTO. Development Cost $: 300.000 million. Launch Price $: 105.000 million in 1999 dollars in 1995 dollars.

Stage Data - Atlas IIIA

  • Stage 1. 1 x Atlas IIIA. Gross Mass: 195,628 kg (431,285 lb). Empty Mass: 13,725 kg (30,258 lb). Thrust (vac): 4,148.722 kN (932,670 lbf). Isp: 337 sec. Burn time: 132 sec. Isp(sl): 311 sec. Diameter: 3.05 m (10.00 ft). Span: 3.05 m (10.00 ft). Length: 29.00 m (95.00 ft). Propellants: Lox/Kerosene. No Engines: 1. Engine: RD-180. Status: In production. Atlas booster and sustainer engine arrangement replaced by Glushko engines developed for Zenit. Not capable of single stage to single stage to orbit capability (an Internet spaceflight urban myth). The single-stage Atlas IIIA booster uses a high-performance RD-180 propulsion system produced by a U.S./Russian joint venture (RD AMROSS) comprised of Pratt & Whitney (U.S.) and NPO Energomash (Russia). The RD-180 burns liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellant and develops a lift-off (sea-level) thrust of 2.6 MN. The RD-180 throttles to various levels during atmospheric ascent to effectively manage the air-loads experienced by the vehicle enabling minimum Atlas vehicle and launch site infrastructure changes. Additionally, throttling results in satellite experienced flight environments that are nearly identical to Atlas IIAS.
  • Stage 2. 1 x Centaur IIIA. Gross Mass: 18,710 kg (41,240 lb). Empty Mass: 1,905 kg (4,199 lb). Thrust (vac): 99.155 kN (22,291 lbf). Isp: 451 sec. Burn time: 738 sec. Isp(sl): 0.0000 sec. Diameter: 3.05 m (10.00 ft). Span: 3.05 m (10.00 ft). Length: 10.00 m (32.00 ft). Propellants: Lox/LH2. No Engines: 1. Engine: RL-10A-4-1. Status: In production. Single-engine Centaur for Atlas IIIA. The Lockheed Martin manufactured Centaur IIIA upper stage is powered by one Pratt & Whitney RL10A-4-1 turbopump-fed engine burning liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. Using the proven flight design of the Centaur IIAS stage, the only changes to Centaur for IIIA are in the aft region of the stage. For Centaur IIIA, one of Centaur IIAS's two RL10 engines is removed. The remaining engine is re-positioned to a center-mount, and electro-mechanical thrust vector control actuators replace the hydraulically actuated system previously in use. Guidance, tank pressurization, and propellant usage controls for both Atlas and Centaur phases are provided by the inertial navigation unit (INU) located on the forward equipment module. The first Centaur burn lasts about nine minutes after which the Centaur and its payload coast in a parking orbit. During the first burn, approximately ten seconds after ignition, the payload fairing is jettisoned. The second Centaur ignition occurs about 23 minutes into the flight, continues for about three minutes, and is followed several minutes later by the separation of the spacecraft from Centaur.

AKA: Atlas 3A; Atlas IIR; Atlas IIAR.
Status: Retired 2004.
Gross mass: 214,338 kg (472,534 lb).
Payload: 8,640 kg (19,040 lb).
Height: 52.80 m (173.20 ft).
Diameter: 3.05 m (10.00 ft).
Thrust: 2,600.00 kN (584,500 lbf).
Apogee: 40,000 km (24,000 mi).
First Launch: 2000.05.24.
Last Launch: 2004.03.13.
Number: 2 .

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
Associated Spacecraft
  • FS-1300 American communications satellite bus. Operational, first launch 1989.06.05. More...

Associated Engines
  • RD-180 Glushko Lox/Kerosene rocket engine. 4152 kN. Atlas III, Atlas V stage 1. In production. Isp=337s. First flight 2000. Two-thrust-chamber derivative of the four-chamber RD-170 used on Zenit. More...
  • RL-10A-4-1 Pratt and Whitney lox/lh2 rocket engine. 99.1 kN. Out of production. Isp=451s. Used on Atlas IIIA launch vehicle. First flight 2000. Version with one of engines removed; remaining engine re-positioned to center-mount; new electro-mechanical gimbals. More...

See also
  • Atlas V The Atlas V launch vehicle system was a completely new design that succeeded the earlier Atlas series. Atlas V vehicles were based on the 3.8-m (12.5-ft) diameter Common Core Booster (CCB) powered by a single Russian RD-180 engine. These could be clustered together, and complemented by a Centaur upper stage, and up to five solid rocket boosters, to achieve a wide range of performance. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Martin American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Martin Marietta Astronautics Group (1956), Denver, CO, USA. More...

Associated Programs
  • Eutelsat EUTELSAT regional geostationary telecommunication satellite for European countries. Operated by the EUTELSAT organization. More...

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cape Canaveral America's largest launch center, used for all manned launches. Today only six of the 40 launch complexes built here remain in use. Located at or near Cape Canaveral are the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, used by NASA for Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches; Patrick AFB on Cape Canaveral itself, operated the US Department of Defense and handling most other launches; the commercial Spaceport Florida; the air-launched launch vehicle and missile Drop Zone off Mayport, Florida, located at 29.00 N 79.00 W, and an offshore submarine-launched ballistic missile launch area. All of these take advantage of the extensive down-range tracking facilities that once extended from the Cape, through the Caribbean, South Atlantic, and to South Africa and the Indian Ocean. More...
  • Cape Canaveral LC36B Atlas V, Atlas launch complex. Atlas Centaur launch pad, in service from 1964 until the retirement of the launch vehicle. More...

Associated Stages
  • Atlas IIIA Lox/Kerosene propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 195,628/13,725 kg. Thrust 4,148.72 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 337 seconds. The American Atlas booster and sustainer engine arrangement was replaced by derivatives of Glushko engines developed for the Ukrainian Zenit launch vehicle. Not capable of single stage to single stage to orbit capability (an Internet spaceflight urban myth). More...
  • Centaur IIIA Lox/LH2 propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 18,710/1,905 kg. Thrust 99.16 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 451 seconds. Single-engine Centaur for Atlas IIIA. More...

Atlas IIIA Chronology


2000 May 24 - . 23:10 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC36B. Launch Pad: SLC36B. LV Family: Atlas V. Launch Vehicle: Atlas IIIA. LV Configuration: Atlas 3A AC-201.
  • Eutelsat W4 - . Mass: 3,190 kg (7,030 lb). Nation: Europe. Agency: Eutelsat. Manufacturer: Cannes. Program: Eutelsat. Class: Communications. Type: Civilian communications satellite. Spacecraft: Spacebus 3000. USAF Sat Cat: 26369 . COSPAR: 2000-028A. Apogee: 35,804 km (22,247 mi). Perigee: 35,770 km (22,220 mi). Inclination: 0.1000 deg. Period: 1,436.10 min. Communications satellite. Maiden flight of Atlas IIIA with Russian RD-180 main engine; scrubbed four times. European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Eutelsat) satellite equipped with 32 Ku-band transponders, and antennae covering Russia and Africa. It will be stationed at 36 deg E. This was the third of the high power Eutelsat W series to be launched (W1 was destroyed in a ground accident). Stationed at 36 deg E. Positioned in geosynchronous orbit at 32 deg E in 2000. As of 4 September 2001 located at 35.98 deg E drifting at 0.003 deg E per day. As of 2007 Mar 9 located at 36.08E drifting at 0.005E degrees per day.

2004 March 13 - . 05:40 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC36B. Launch Pad: SLC36B. LV Family: Atlas V. Launch Vehicle: Atlas IIIA. LV Configuration: Atlas 3A AC-202.
  • MBSAT - . Mass: 4,143 kg (9,133 lb). Nation: Japan. Agency: MBC. Manufacturer: Palo Alto. Class: Communications. Type: Civilian communications satellite. Spacecraft: FS-1300. USAF Sat Cat: 28184 . COSPAR: 2004-007A. Apogee: 35,795 km (22,241 mi). Perigee: 35,779 km (22,231 mi). Inclination: 0.0000 deg. Period: 1,436.10 min. Summary: Mobile S-band digital broadcasting services for home and automobile users in Japan. As of 2007 Mar 9 located at 144.03E drifting at 0.009W degrees per day..

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