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20-Oct-01 | Delta flight 288 – QuickBird 2

On Thursday, 18 October, the 288th Delta launched QuickBird 2, an Earth imaging satellite owned by DigitalGlobe. The satellite, when it becomes operational in February, is expected to provide the highest-resolution images available on the commercial market.

The two-stage Delta 7320, sporting three booster motors and a 10-foot diameter composite fairing, left Vandenberg’s SLC-2W at 11:51:26.242 PDT after a problem-free terminal count. The Ball Aerospace-built spacecraft was deployed into a nominal 243 nautical mile circular orbit just over an hour later. Like most Delta launches from the west coast, QuickBird’s orbit is polar and sun-synchronous, which will allow maximum coverage of the Earth’s surface.

According to Spaceflight Now, the usual controller “ground loop” audio was unavailable for this flight, hindering that site’s ability to provide what is usually quite detailed play-by-play coverage. Whether this was merely a technical glitch or an intentional security measure by the Air Force has not been determined.

This was the third attempt for DigitalGlobe (formerly known as EarthWatch), which is based in Longmont, Colo. Their first satellite, EarlyBird — not to be confused with Intelsat 1 — suffered a power system malfunction four days after its launch in 1997. QuickBird 1 was lost in November 2000 when the second stage of its Russian-built Kosmos-3M launch vehicle failed to restart at apogee, possibly due to oxidizer contamination. Despite the substantially increased cost versus Russian rockets with similar capacity, DigitalGlobe chose Delta II for this flight thanks to the vehicle’s exceptional reliability. “We looked at it and said ‘here is the most reliable rocket in the U.S. inventory, in the kind of class we can fly in and it is just an outstanding rocket,'” said Herb Satterlee, DigitalGlobe president and CEO.

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