U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet
Atlas II is
a member of the Atlas family of launch vehicles, which evolved from
the successful Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
program. It is designed to launch payloads into low earth orbit,
geosynchronous transfer orbit or geosynchronous orbit.
provides higher performance than the earlier Atlas I by using
engines with greater thrust and longer fuel tanks for both stages.
The total thrust capability of the Atlas II of 490,000 pounds
enables the booster to lift payloads of 6,100 pounds in
geosynchronous orbit (22,000 miles-plus). This series uses an
improved Centaur upper stage – the world’s first high-energy
propellant stage – to increase its payload capability. Atlas II also
has lower-cost electronics, an improved flight computer and longer
propellant tanks than its predecessor, Atlas I.
Atlas IIs are
launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., by the 45th
Space Wing and, in the future, will be launched by the 30th Space
Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
was originally fielded as an ICBM in the early 1960s. The Air Force
replaced the Atlas ICBMs with Minuteman missiles and converted them
into space launch vehicles in the late 1960s.
NASA used the
Atlas as a space launch vehicle as early as 1958. Atlas served as
the launch vehicle for Project Score, the world’s first
communications satellite. The satellite broadcast President
Eisenhower’s pre-recorded Christmas message around the
An Atlas booster carried U.S. astronaut John Glenn
into orbit under Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space
program. Atlas space launch vehicles were used in all three unmanned
lunar exploration programs. Atlas Centaur vehicles also launched
Mariner and Pioneer planetary probes.
In May 1988, the Air
Force chose General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) to develop the
Atlas II vehicle, primarily to launch Defense Satellite
Communications System payloads and for commercial users as a result
of Atlas I launch failures in the late 1980s.
booster has been in use for more than 25 years and remains a key
part of the U.S. Space Program.
Primary function: Launch vehicle
contractor: Lockheed Martin - airframe, assembly, avionics, test
and systems integration
Rocketdyne (Atlas engine, MA-5); Pratt & Whitney (Centaur
engine, RL-10) and Honeywell & Teledyne (avionics)
Plant: Three MA-5A Rocketdyne engines, two Pratt & Whitney
RL10A-4 Centaur engines
Thrust: 494,500 pounds
Length: Up to 156 feet (47.54 meters); 16-foot-high
engine cluster (4.87 meters)
Core Diameter: 10 feet (3.04
Gross Liftoff Weight: 414,000 pounds (204,343
First Launch: Feb. 10, 1992
II, IIA, and IIAS
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral AFS,
Point of Contact
Air Force Space Command,
Public Affairs Office; 150 Vandenberg St., Suite 1105; Peterson
AFB, CO 80914-4500; DSN 692-3731, or (719) 554-3731.