KODIAK (AP) -- Four satellites carried on board a Lockheed Martin Athena 1 rocket were successfully deployed Saturday night after a launch from the Kodiak Launch Complex.
After weeks of delays due to travel interruptions caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, rain and high winds, and most recently, solar flares, the rocket lifted off at 6:40 p.m.
The $38 million mission is the first orbital launch from Alaska.
''It couldn't have gone better,'' said National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman George H. Diller. ''It's been a very successful mission. It's what we all hoped for.''
The 144,000-pound, 62-foot rocket reached its prescribed orbit one hour and five minutes after launch, and deployed three Department of Defense satellites 500 miles above Earth.
Sixteen minutes later, the rocket changed orbits to descend to 300 miles above Earth. A NASA satellite, Starshine 3, was deployed on schedule at two hours and 10 minutes after launch, at about 8:50 p.m.
Diller said signals from two of the Department of Defense satellites were picked up at a station in South Africa and all three were transmitting when they made their first orbit over Kodiak.
Likewise, the NASA satellite sent a signal picked up by the Palmer Station by a National Science Foundation contractor in Antarctica 10 minutes after it separated from the rocket, said Gil Moore, director of Project Starshine,
The three Defense Department satellites include a technology demonstration spacecraft built in Great Britain to test vibration isolation and polymer battery characteristics, and for observations of the ionosphere.
A communications satellite built by students at the Naval Academy will be used by amateur radio operators.
The third satellite is a microsatellite built by students from Stanford and Washington universities to test infrared sensors. That satellite also holds a digital camera and a voice synthesizer.
The Starshine 3 satellite is a three-foot sphere covered with 1,500 aluminum mirrors polished by children in classrooms worldwide. It will gather information about how the upper atmosphere reacts to solar radiation.
Students who helped polish the mirrors will track the satellite and report their findings on a Web site.
''It's must the start,'' said Moore, who did not try to contain his excitement. ''Now we've got four years of data coming.''
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