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Delta rocket successfully launches five satellites

May 5, 1997

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) _ A Delta II rocket Monday successfully launched five satellites, the first of 66 planned for the Iridium global communications system to expand mobile telephone service, the Air Force said.

The booster blasted off at 7:55 a.m. PDT from the North Vandenberg launch complex for positioning in a polar orbit, Lt. Carol Kanode said.

``It will be three weeks before we know if they are in the right orbit,″ the base spokeswoman said.

The successful launch followed three consecutive postponements, the latest on Sunday when an alarm sounded three seconds before liftoff. Human error was blamed.

The alarm was triggered by a device monitoring the temperature in the Delta II rocket’s nose cone, or payload faring, said Christine Nelson, a spokeswoman for rocket builder McDonnell Douglas.

The technician responsible for the alarm failed to tell the launch conductor that it posed no problem, Ms. Nelson said.

The Iridium consortium, led by Motorola Inc., wants to place 66 satellites into orbit to allow mobile telephone users to call anywhere in the world as easily as they now place cellular calls in cities.

The $5 billion project has been fraught with delays.

The initial Iridium satellite launch was twice scrubbed because of problems with ground equipment. Another attempt was canceled when it was discovered that a cork layer between the rocket’s first stage and its liquid oxygen fuel was thinner than it should have been.

The worst setback came on Jan. 17 when a Delta II rocket carrying a $40 million Global Positioning Satellite for the Air Force exploded after liftoff in Florida.

Monday’s launch was the first Delta II launch since that mishap.

``We continue to be very optimistic that we’ll be able to get (Iridium) up and operational by the end of ’98,″ Ms. Nelson said. Thirteen Iridium payload launches will blast off from Vandenberg.

McDonnell Douglas is under contract to launch 40 of the 66 satellites during the next four years, and operate and maintain them once they are in place. Others satellites will be launched from Russia and China.

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