Atlas II

Atlas II was a member of the Atlas family of launch vehicles, which evolved from the successful Atlas missile program of the 1950s. It was designed to launch payloads into low earth orbit, geosynchronous transfer orbit or geosynchronous orbit. Sixty-three launches of the Atlas II, IIA and IIAS models were carried out between 1991 and 2004; all sixty-three launches were successes, making the Atlas II the most reliable launch system in history. The Atlas line was continued by the Atlas III, used between 2000 and 2005, and the Atlas V which is still in use.

Atlas II
Launch of an Atlas II rocket
FunctionMedium expendable Launch vehicle
ManufacturerLockheed Martin
Country of originUnited States
Height47.54 m (156 ft)
Diameter3.04 m (10 ft)
Mass204,300 kg (414,000 lb)
Payload to LEO6,580 kg
Payload to
2,810 kg
Associated rockets
Launch history
Launch sitesSLC-36, Cape Canaveral
SLC-3 Vandenberg AFB
Total launches63
(II: 10, IIA: 23, IIAS: 30)
(II: 10, IIA: 23, IIAS: 30)[1]
First flightII: December 7, 1991
IIA: June 10, 1992
IIAS: December 16, 1993
Last flightII: March 16, 1998
IIA: December 5, 2002
IIAS: August 31, 2004[1]
Notable payloadsSOHO (Atlas IIAS)
TDRS (Atlas IIA)
Boosters (Atlas IIAS) - Castor 4A
No. boosters4
Engines1 Solid
Thrust478.3 kN (107,530 lbf)
Specific impulse266 sec
Burn time56 seconds
Boosters (all) - MA-5A
No. boosters1
Engines2 RS-56-OBA
Thrust2,093.3 kN (470,680 lbf)
Specific impulse299 sec
Burn time172 seconds
PropellantLOX / RP-1
First stage
Engines1 RS-56-OSA
Thrust386 kN (86,844 lbf)
Specific impulse316 sec
Burn time283 seconds
PropellantRP-1 / LOX
Second stage Centaur
Engines2 RL-10A
Thrust147 kN (41,592 lbf)
Specific impulse449 sec
Burn time392 seconds
PropellantLH2 / LOX
Third stage - IABS (optional)
Engines1 R-4D
Thrust980N (220 lbf)
Specific impulse312 sec
Burn time60 seconds


Atlas II provided higher performance than the earlier Atlas I by using engines with greater thrust and longer fuel tanks for both stages. LR-89 and LR-105 were replaced by the RS-56, derived from the RS-27. The total thrust capability of the Atlas II of 490,000 pounds force (2,200 kN) enabled the booster to lift payloads of 6,100 pounds (2,767 kg) into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) of 22,000 miles (35,000 km) or more. Atlas II was the last Atlas to use a three engine, "stage-and-a-half" design: two of its three engines were jettisoned during ascent, but its fuel tanks and other structural elements were retained. The two booster engines, RS-56-OBAs, were integrated into a single unit called the MA-5A and shared a common gas generator. They burned for 164 seconds before being jettisoned. The central sustainer engine, an RS-56-OSA, would burn for an additional 125 seconds.[2] The Vernier engines on the first stage of the Atlas I were replaced by a hydrazine fueled roll control system.[3]

This series used an improved Centaur upper stage, the world's first cryogenic propellant stage, to increase its payload capability. Atlas II also had lower-cost electronics,[4] an improved flight computer[4] and longer propellant tanks than its predecessor, Atlas I.[4]


Atlas II

The original Atlas II was based on the Atlas I and its predecessors. This version flew between 1991 and 1998.[3]

Atlas IIA

Atlas IIA was a derivative designed to service the commercial launch market. The main improvement was the switch from the RL10A-3-3A to RL10A-4 engine on the Centaur upper stage.[5] The IIA version flew between 1992 and 2002.[6]

Atlas IIAS

Atlas IIAS was largely identical to IIA, but added four Castor 4A solid rocket boosters to increase performance. These boosters were ignited in pairs, with one pair igniting on the ground, and the second igniting in the air shortly after the first pair separated. The half-stage booster section would then drop off as usual.[5] IIAS was used between 1993 and 2004, concurrently with IIA.[7]


In May 1988, the Air Force chose General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) to develop the Atlas II vehicle, primarily to launch Defense Satellite Communications System payloads and for commercial users as a result of Atlas I launch failures in the late 1980s. Led by lead engineer Samuel Wagner, the Atlas II was crucial to the continued development of the United States' space program.

Atlas IIs were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., by the 45th Space Wing. The final West Coast Atlas II launch was accomplished December 2003 by the 30th Space Wing, Vandenberg AFB, California.


  • General Characteristics[8]
    • Primary function: Launch vehicle
    • Primary contractor: Lockheed Martin – airframe, assembly, avionics, test and systems integration
    • Principal subcontractors: Rocketdyne (Atlas engine, MA-5); Pratt & Whitney (Centaur engine, RL-10) and Honeywell & Teledyne (avionics)
    • Power Plant: Three MA-5A (RS-56) Rocketdyne engines, two Pratt & Whitney RL10A-4 Centaur engines
    • Thrust: 494,500 lbf (2,200 kN)
    • Length: Up to 156 ft (47.54 m); 16 ft (4.87 m) high engine cluster
    • Core Diameter: 10 feet (3.04 m)
    • Gross Liftoff Weight: 414,000 lb (204,300 kg)
    • First Launch: February 10, 1992
    • Models: II, IIA, and IIAS
    • Launch Site: Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida

See also


  1. Tariq Malik "Final Atlas 2 Rocket Orbits Classified U.S. Satellite", Space News, August 31, 2004 (Accessed September 24, 2014)
  2. "Atlas IIA(S) Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  3. "Atlas II". Astronautix. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  4. "Atlas II Factsheet".
  5. "Atlas Launch System Payload Planner's Guide" (PDF). Lockheed Martin. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 21, 2015. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  6. "Atlas IIA". Astronautix. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  7. "Atlas IIAS". Astronautix. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  8. Spaceflight Now, Atlas IIAS (accessed September 24, 2014)
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