KODIAK (AP) -- A long-delayed orbital launch finally made it off the pad Saturday, with a 62-foot-tall Lockheed Martin Athena 1 rocket carrying four satellites into space.
The launch from the Kodiak Launch Complex came at 6:40 p.m. It was the first orbital launch ever conducted from Alaska.
The rocket sent three Department of Defense satellites into a 500-mile-high orbit. Then it dropped to a 300-mile-high orbit and deployed the Starshine 3 satellite, a 3-foot sphere covered with 1,500 aluminum mirrors polished by schoolchildren.
The mission was delayed by the terrorist attacks on the East Coast, because technicians couldn't make it to Alaska on commercial flights. Then weather and solar flares caused further delays.
But officials said Saturday's launch went perfectly.
''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.''
With its mirrors flashing every two seconds, the Starshine satellite will be visible just after sunset and just before sunrise as far north as Point Barrow and as far south as McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The satellite will measure how solar storms influence Earth's upper atmosphere.
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.
Before Saturday's first orbital launch, three suborbital rockets came off the Kodiak launch pad.
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