Atlas III


The Atlas III (known as the Atlas II-AR (R for Russian) early in development [2]) was an American orbital launch vehicle, used in the years between 2000 and 2005.[3] It was the first member of the Atlas family since the Atlas A to feature a "normal" staging method, compared to the previous Atlas family members, which were equipped with two jettisonable outboard engines on the first (booster) stage (with a single center engine serving as the sustainer).

Atlas III
Atlas III Centaur.jpg
The maiden flight of the Atlas III
FunctionMedium expendable launch vehicle
ManufacturerLockheed Martin
Country of originUnited States
Height52.8 m (173 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10.0 ft)
Mass214,338 kg (472,534 lb)
Payload to Low Earth orbit
MassIIIA: 8,640 kg (19,050 lb)
IIIB: 10,218 kg (22,527 lb)
Payload to Geostationary transfer orbit
MassIIIA: 4,055 kg (8,940 lb)
IIIB: 4,500 kg (9,900 lb)
Associated rockets
Launch history
Launch sitesSLC-36B, CCAFS
Total launches6
(IIIA: 2, IIIB: 4)
(IIIA: 2, IIIB: 4) [1]
First flightIIIA: 24 May 2000
IIIB: 21 February 2002
Last flightIIIA: 13 March 2004
IIIB: 3 February 2005
First stage
Powered by1 RD-180
Maximum thrust4,148.7 kN (932,700 lbf)
Specific impulse311 s (3.05 km/s)
Burn time132 seconds
PropellantRP-1 / LOX
Second stage (Atlas IIIA) – Centaur (SEC)
Powered by1 RL-10A
Maximum thrust99.2 kN (22,300 lbf)
Specific impulse451 s (4.42 km/s)
Burn time738 seconds
PropellantLH2 / LOX
Second stage (Atlas IIIB) – Centaur (DEC)
Powered by2 RL-10A
Maximum thrust147 kN (33,000 lbf)
Specific impulse449 s (4.40 km/s)
Burn time392 seconds
PropellantLH2 / LOX


The Atlas III consisted of two stages. The first stage was new, but the upper stage was the Centaur, which is still in use today on the Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The first stage engine was the Russian RD-180, which is also used by the Atlas V. The Atlas III was produced in two versions. The baseline was the Atlas IIIA, but the Atlas IIIB, featuring a twin-engine version of the Centaur upper stage, was also produced.[1]


The first flight of the Atlas III occurred on 24 May 2000, launching the Eutelsat W4 communications satellite into a geosynchronous orbit.[4] All Atlas III launches were made from Space Launch Complex 36B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The Atlas III made its sixth and last flight on 3 February 2005, with a classified payload for the United States National Reconnaissance Office.[5][6]


The GX rocket, formerly under development by Galaxy Express Corporation, was originally intended to use the boost stage of the Atlas III, provided by Lockheed-Martin, and a newly designed upper stage. It would have launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, south of Kyūshū, Japan. In December 2009, the Japanese government decided to cancel the GX project.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Space Launch Report: Atlas III Data Sheet accessed September 24, 2014
  2. ^ "Lockheed Martin Selects RD-180 to Power Atlas IIAR". International Launch Services. 17 January 1996. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  3. ^ "Atlas IIIA". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 1 July 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2007.
  4. ^ "Atlas-3A (Atlas-IIIA)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  5. ^ Ray, Justin (3 February 2015). "Last Atlas 3 rocket launches a pair of spy satellites". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  6. ^ Plain, Charlie. "NASA – Out With a Bang!". Retrieved 6 June 2020.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ "Japan scraps GX rocket development project". iStockAnalyst. 16 December 2009. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2009.