Military Satellite in Wrong Orbit

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A $250 million missile-warning satellite ended up in the wrong orbit following its launch aboard an Air Force Titan rocket, military officials said Saturday night.

The Defense Support Program satellite was lifted into orbit Friday for the Defense Department. It was the first Titan IV flight since a spectacular $1 billion launch explosion in August.

The rocket performed as planned and the mishap apparently occurred several hours later, said Patsy Bomhoff, a spokeswoman at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.

``We don't know what went wrong when,'' she said. ``They're working around the clock and trying to work every angle possible to salvage this satellite.''

The highly sensitive 2 1/2-ton infrared telescope is designed to detect missile and rocket launches as well as nuclear detonations. It was intended for a 22,300-mile-high orbit.

Bomhoff said the satellite separated properly from its upper-stage motor seven hours after Friday afternoon's liftoff. Controllers discovered later in the night, however, that the satellite was in a highly elliptical orbit, she said.

Bomhoff said she did not have any additional information, such as the specifics of the orbit.

The Air Force Space Command is convening an investigating board of officers to look into the mishap.

The satellite was to have joined other Defense Support Program craft in orbit and begun operating in three to six months. Air Force officials declined before Friday's launch to say how many working DSP satellites are in orbit, but stressed they were providing worldwide coverage.

DSP satellites were instrumental in tracking Scud missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

The next DSP satellite isn't due to be launched until December.

TRW built the satellite. Boeing provided the upper-stage motor.

AP-NY-04-11-99 0005EDT
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