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Atlas Facilities

Production Facilities(1)

Convair division of General Dynamics Corporation initially developed the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile; later, the Atlas was modified for use as a space launch vehicle, expanding the corporation's activities into space exploration.

Throughout 1955 and 1956, steps were taken to form the Atlas Model 7 Project into a separate operating division of Convair. This new operating division was known as Astronautics. Directors of General Dynamics voted to appropriate $20 million to acquire land and to build an Astronautics plant at San Diego. A similar amount was provided by the Air Force for equipment. Another milestone in 1956 was the beginning of construction of the Atlas plant on San Diego's Kearny Mesa. The following year Astronautics formally became an operating division of Convair. An Atlas component test facility was established on Point Loma in San Diego; captive missile test facilities were formed at Edwards Rocket Site north of Los Angeles and at Sycamore Canyon near San Diego.

In June 1961, the official name of Convair-Astronautics changed to General Dynamics Astronautics, a division of General Dynamics Corporation, denoting full corporate division status as the largest business element of General Dynamics. In February 1965, the Convair and Astronautics divisions of the corporation were recombined under the Convair division name, following completion of the Atlas weapon system design, development, and base activation tasks for which the Astronautics division was organized. Convair division, designed, developed, and manufactured aircraft, space launch vehicles, Centaur high-energy upper-stage vehicles, OV-1 auxiliary space vehicles, fairing systems, electronic systems, and other aerospace systems and equipment.

General Dynamics Space Systems Division was prime contractor for design, integration, checkouts and launch of Atlas and Centaur. This work was done chiefly at the Kearny Mesa plant in San Diego. Major subcontractors are Pratt & Whitney (Centaur main engines), Honeywell (inertial measurement group), Teledyne Systems (digital computer unit), and Rockwell International-Rocketdyne (Atlas engines). As the spacecraft-to-launch vehicle integrating contractor, General Dynamics was responsible for payload integration, guidance system integration, mission analysis, software design, launch vehicle range support, and range safety documentation. For Atlas/Centaur launches, General Dynamics produced all launch vehicle-related software, and had prime responsibility for launch vehicle ascent trajectory, performance analysis, targeting, guidance analysis, and range safety analysis. General Dynamics was also responsible for spacecraft encapsulation, ground transport of the encapsulated spacecraft to the launch site, raising the spacecraft to the proper level, and mating the spacecraft and fairing to the booster.(2)

Atlas Acquired by Martin-Marietta(3)

Martin Marietta purchased General Dynamics Space Systems division on 2 May 1994 for $208.5 million, consolidating 1 million square feet of office and manufacturing space for Atlas production from San Diego with Titan facilities in Denver. Approximately 400 jobs were eliminated in San Diego and Denver. Total savings over 10 years were initially estimated at over $300 million (subsequently raised to as much as $500 million), due in part to filling excess factory space and sharing fixed costs for utilities and other property expenses.

This purchase by Martin Marietta of the Atlas launch vehicle gave Martin the dominant role in the space launch business.

When Martin Marietta announced plans to purchase the Atlas line in December 1993, splitting the savings with the government share was made a condition of the deal. Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch and Martin Marietta agreed in March 1994 to split evenly the cost savings, which are mainly related to the Titan 4 program. As a result, Martin Marietta received $50 million (initially estimated at $30 million) in financial assistance from the Pentagon, which normally retains all such savings from mergers. The government will reap about $450 million of the total savings, though $90 million in restructuring costs will be added as overhead on the Titan IV contract over a four-year period.

This was the first time the Pentagon had agreed to share such savings, and the first time a corporate merger had been publicly supported. The Clinton administration has been more active in helping assisting industry than previous administrations. The Clinton Pentagon favors consolidation in the space industry, lowering Pentagon outlays for launches by economizing and by laying off workers.

The move of the Atlas production facilities to Denver was expected to require about 18 months, and to be completed at the end of 1995. Administrative and engineering staffs completed the move at the of 1994. Production of Atlas boosters and Centaur engines will continue in San Diego at the Kearny Mesa plant until a duplicate line is established in Denver by the end of 1995, by which time more than 1,800 positions will be transferred. Approximately 300 employees will remain in San Diego, at Space Magnetics, and the Air Force Plant 19 facility for initial manufacturing of Atlas components. The 200 personnel at the Harlingen, TX, facility which produces Atlas/Centaur jettisonable components such as payload fairings and interstage adapters, are unaffected by the consolidation.

Launch Facilities

Atlas Centaur is launched from Complex 36B at ETR and a launch rate of five vehicles per year is attainable. Modifications to Complex 36A allowed a ten vehicle annual launch rate.(4) Consolidation of Atlas and Titan operations includes cross-training crews for the Atlas LC-36A/B and Titan LC-40/41. The consolidation plan will also combine launch operations at Vandenberg AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS. This consolidation will include cross-utilization of launch teams to handle flow surges, and result in eliminating about 50 personnel. On the Eastern Range Atlas is limited to eight launches per year.(5)

Atlas - LC-36(6)

Atlas launch vehicles are operated from LC-36, which consists of launch pads A and B. Atlas G/Centaur D-IA was launched from Launch Complex 36B. Since 1978, LC 36B had been mothballed, and was refurbished and returned to operational status in 1989. Launches from Complex 36A with the Atlas G/Centaur configuration also required pad modifications. Fuel (RP-1 and liquid hydrogen) and oxidizer (liquid oxygen) storage tanks, and high pressure gas storage facilities. The structures within the launch complex contain the equipment required to perform tests, checkout, and launch functions on the vehicle. Prelaunch and launch operations of the launch vehicle and spacecraft are fully integrated. General Dynamics supports all operations, including encapsulation and mating the spacecraft to Centaur.

Launch Complex Pads 36A and 36B share a common blockhouse, instrumentation, and launch control equipment. Mobile service towers (MST) at each pad provide a protected work area for spacecraft mating and checkout. They are moved away from the launch pad before cryogenic tanking, about 120 minutes before launch. A fixed umbilical tower at each pad provides instrumentation lines, fuel, power, and purging gas to Centaur and the spacecraft by means of umbilical booms. The booms pull lines clear at liftoff and swing clear of the ascending vehicle. A single blockhouse controls launches on both Pad 36A and 36B. Connected to both pads by cable tunnels, the blockhouse contains all necessary electrical and communication equipment to conduct a launch from either pad. Space is available for spacecraft ground support equipment. Isolated cabling from the blockhouse to the launch pad is for spacecraft ground checkout. Wideband data circuits are available for connections to spacecraft checkout facilities (Building AO) and to tracking networks.

Space Launch Complex (SLC) 36A is one of two launch pads used to launch Atlas launch vehicles The other pad is SLC 36B. Both pads contain a mobile service tower and launch umbilical tower and are served by a common blockhouse where the launch control function is performed. SLC 36A is currently used exclusively for the launch of DoD payloads and is configured to launch the Atlas II version. Commercial Atlas IIA launches will also be accommodated at SLC 36A in the future. All commercial Atlas launches are presently launched from SLC 36B. SLC 36B is assigned to General Dynamics (GD) and has been modified at their own expense to accommodate all versions of the Atlas launch vehicle (I, Il. IIA, IIAS). GD also pays the full O&M costs associated with SLC 36B. DoD pays for the O&M costs on SLC 36A and the common blockhouse (GD pays for any mission related direct costs when using the blockhouse for commercial launches). The mission model shows 40 Atlas II launches from SLC 36A through the year 2023; approximately 90% of the time the launch rate for 36A ranges from 0 to 2 launches per year (increasing to 3 or 4 launches for the remaining years). By contrast, for this same period, the mission model shows 120 commercial Atlas launches from SLC 36B; approximately 23% of the time the launch rate for 36B ranges from 0 to 2 launches (52 % of the time it ranges from 3 to 4 launches; 16 % of the time it ranges from 5 to 6 launches; 9 % of the time it ranges from 8 to 10 launches). Since the projected launch activity for commercial Atlas launches is approximately 3 times greater than the number of DoD launches proJected from 1993 to 2023 it makes sense to use SLC 36A as a launch asset in addition to SLC 36B. This would require GD to invest corporate funds to modify SLC 36A to make it compatible with all commercial Atlas launch vehicle configurations since SLC 36A can only support the Atlas II configuration. This approach would give GD greater flexibility and capability in support of the commercial launch program.(7)

General Dynamics Space Systems Division (GDSSD) performed and funded major renovations to SLC 36B in support of their commercial launch program. This pad can support the launch of all versions of the Atlas vehicle whereas SLC 36A (which supports the Air Force Atlas program) can only accommodate the Atlas II version. There is no opportunity to close either SLC 36A or 36B because one pad alone cannot support both the mission model and the commercial Atlas launch program. Even if one pad was closed the Government would still end up paying all of the O&M for one launch pad because the Commercial Space Launch Act does not require commercial users to pay fixed O&M costs on facilities shared with the Government.(8)

Atlas SLC-3(9)

One Atlas launch pad (SLC-3W) is currently operational. Several support facilities located at SLC-3 include technical support buildings, launch operations building, vehicle support building, and launch service building. The propellants used in the Atlas vehicle are stored on-site, and can be directly loaded onto the vehicle. Atlas vehicles are delivered to the launch areas in a pre-assembled condition and are erected on the launch pad, serviced and launched.

To meet high inclination orbit requirements, the Air Force plans to activate the SLC-3E adjacent to the Atlas E launch facility (SLC-3W), with an expected initial launch capability (ILC) of 1996.(10)


1. General Dynamics Convair Division, Atlas Space Launch Vehicle Systems Summary, GDC-BGJ67-001, February 1967.

2. General Dynamics Space Systems Division, Atlas Centaur Mission Planners Guide, (April 1983, Revised November 1986), Arlington, Virginia and San Diego, California.

3. John Mintz, "Marietta Seeks Concessions On General Dynamics Deal," Washington Post, 19 February 1994, page C1, C7;

John Mintz, "Martin Closes Rocket Deal, Analysts Say Firm May Need More Pentagon Help," Washington Post, 3 May 1994, pages D1, D6.

John Mintz, "Martin Plans Big Cuts at Calif. Plant," Washington Post, 17 June 1994, pages F1, F4;

"Martin Consolidation Sends Atlas Production Line to Denver," Defense Daily, 17 June 1994, Page 428.

Patrick Seitz, "Martin To Move Atlas Plant by 1995's End," Space News, 20 June 1994, pages 4, 21.

4. General Dynamics Space Systems Division, Atlas Centaur Mission Planners Guide, (April 1983, Revised November 1986), Arlington, Virginia and San Diego, California.

5. Department of Defense, Space Launch Modernization Plan - Executive Summary, 5 May 1994, page 11.

6. Adapted from: US Department of Transportation Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Scheduling Commercial Launch Operations at National Ranges, (Washington, DC, May 1989); and

General Dynamics Corporation, Atlas G/Centaur Mission Planning Guide, April 1983, Revised October 1983, Reprinted June 1986: Revised November 1986, General Dynamics Space Systems Division, San Diego, California, 1745 Jefferson Davis Highway, Suite 1000, Arlington, Virginia 22202.

7. Adapted from: NASA/DOD/DOT National Facilities Study National Facilities Study -- Volume 4 -- Space Operations Facilities Task Group, 29 April 1994, page 482-483.

8. Adapted from: NASA/DOD/DOT National Facilities Study National Facilities Study -- Volume 4 -- Space Operations Facilities Task Group, 29 April 1994, page 312-313.

9. Adapted from: US Department of Transportation Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Scheduling Commercial Launch Operations at National Ranges, (Washington, DC, May 1989)

10. Dennis R. Dunbar, Robert C. White, and R.C. Waterman, General Dynamics Commercial Launch Services, "Atlas Vehicle and Mission Design Enhancements," IAF-92-0827, 43rd Congress of the International Astronautical Federation, 28 August - 5 September 5, 1992, Washington, DC, page 6.

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Page last modified: 20-07-2011 23:26:01 ZULU