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11-Sep-08 | Delta flight 335 – GeoEye 1

On Saturday, 06 September 2008, a ULA Delta II successfully launched GeoEye 1, a next-generation commercial Earth-imaging satellite. The late-morning launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base was performed under a commercial contract with Boeing Launch Services, with flight hardware and mission services provided by United Launch Alliance.

In a rare occurrence, the weather was reported as being 100% favourable for launch, with only a brief concern about lower-level winds that cropped up and vanished without issue.  Ironically, the launch site was shrouded by a heavy ground fog that made the rocket difficult to distinguish in several of the launch pad camera views.  (This fog was not a constraint for launch.)

Following the latest in a long series of uneventful terminal countdowns, the two-stage Med-Lite Delta II (model 7420-10) lifted off from SLC-2W at exactly 11:50:57.502 PDT, punching through the low fog layer and streaking into a clear central California sky.  After dropping its ground-lit booster motors downrange of several offshore oil-drilling platforms, and completing its first-stage burn and two second-stage burns, the Delta II rocket deployed its 4310-pound payload into a nominal, circular orbit just under 59 minutes after launch.

For a complete play-by-play of the launch, Justin Ray of Spaceflight Now delivered this Mission Status Report.  Additionally, GeoEye has archived the television feed of the launch.

GeoEye 1 is touted as “the world’s highest resolution, commercial Earth-imaging satellite.”  It will provide a ground resolution of 41 centimetres in black-and-white, 165 cm in colour, and have the capacity to pinpoint its ground targets within about 3 metres of their actual position.  One obvious customer will be the U.S. military, which will be able to share its imagery with its allies without the concerns that accompany classified data from American spy satellites.

In addition, the launch vehicle’s first stage carried a Google logo; that company has an exclusive contract with GeoEye and will be the only online search-and-mapping site to receive GeoEye images.  The data will be incorporated into both Google Earth and Google Maps.



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