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Friday April 30, 8:54 pm Eastern Time
FOCUS-U.S Air Force $1.2 billion mission fails
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said its $1.2 billion Titan 4B rocket mission had failed to place a military satellite into the proper orbit on Friday, its third consecutive space mission failure.
``Obviously this is a very disappointing day for the U.S. Air Force. This mission did not end the way we hoped it would,'' Brig. Gen. Randy Starbuck, commander of the 45th Space Wing, which runs the Air Force's Cape Canaveral launch site, told a news conference.
Starbuck said the Titan rocket, which had lifted off from its Cape Canaveral launch pad at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT) with the 10,000-pound (4,540 kg) Milstar communications satellite nestled in its giant nose cone, had placed the satellite in an elliptical orbit measuring 460 mile (740.3 km) at its low point and 3,105 miles (4,997 km) at its high point.
A liquid-fueled Centaur upper stage booster was supposed to have fired three times to raise the satellite into an orbit 22,300 miles (35,890 km) above the equator after the Titan 4B rocket lofted the satellite into space.
Starbuck said that the booster fired the intended three times, but much earlier than planned and the satellite separated from the rocket four hours earlier than planned.
``Sometime after 1:00 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), we started receiving anomalous data,'' he said.
The botched mission was the Air Force's third consecutive space failure, after two that bore a combined price tag of more than $1.7 billion. Last August a Titan 4A rocket exploded less than a minute into flight and on April 9, a $250 million missile warning satellite was stranded in the wrong orbit.
The Titan rocket launched on Friday has a price tag of $433.1 million and the Milstar communications satellite is valued at about $800 million. Both were built by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT - news) .
``Certainly when we have three failures in a row of any system, something is not right,'' Starbuck said.
The failure could have implications for two of the United States' other satellite launch programs.
A Boeing Co (BA - news). Delta 3 rocket which was scheduled for launch on a $230 million commercial communications satellite mission on Sunday was to use a modified version of the Centaur booster.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the company had decided to delay Sunday's launch. ``We've decided to wait until Tuesday so we can look at the data,'' she said.
And NASA was planning to launch a weather satellite on an Atlas rocket, which also uses the Centaur, on May 15.
Milstar is the U.S. military's most sophisticated and costly communications satellite. The relay stations were designed during the Cold War to survive nuclear war and keep U.S. leaders in contact with military forces around the globe.
Two Milstar satellites already in orbit have been used to transmit targeting information for cruise missiles in conflicts such as the Kosovo air war. The orbiting switchboards provide jam-proof communications for ships, submarines, aircraft and troops in battle.