April 21, 1999
KSC Contact: George H. Diller
KSC Release No. 30-99

NASA AWARDS LAUNCH CONTRACT FOR ATHENA ROCKET

NASA announced today a contract award to Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO, to launch the Vegetation Canopy Lidar (VCL) satellite on an Athena I rocket. Launch is scheduled for August 2000 from a launch pad located on Kodiak Island, AK. This will be the first launch to low Earth orbit from the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation's new commercial launch facility.

The VCL satellite is designed to precisely measure the Earth's vegetation coverage, vegetation depth (or canopy) and topography by using short laser pulses from a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system. The Athena I rocket will place the satellite into a 261 mile-high orbit above the Earth inclined 67 degrees to the equator. The VCL spacecraft weighs 954 pounds and is 6.8 feet tall by 3.8 feet wide.

NASA has launched two other missions on Athena rockets: the Lewis satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, on Aug. 22, 1997, using an Athena I; and the Lunar Prospector spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Jan. 6, 1998, using an Athena II. NASA had previously planned to launch the Clark satellite on an Athena I but discontinued the program. However, the agency retained its contractual rights to the three-stage Athena I that will now be used for VCL.

The VCL mission is being implemented for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, by the University of Maryland, College Park, in support of the Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program. The single-science instrument on VCL, the Multi-Beam Laser Altimeter (MBLA), is being built by Goddard's Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics. The spacecraft bus for VCL is being built by Orbital Sciences, Dulles, VA.


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