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Atlas II Centaur


Written and Edited by Cliff Lethbridge

Classification: Space Launch Vehicle

Length: 149 feet, 7 inches (with medium fairing),
155 feet, 10 inches (with large fairing)

Diameter: 10 feet


The Atlas II-Centaur was developed in 1989 specifically to support the launches of U.S. Air Force Defense Support Communications Satellite (DSCS) payloads.

The vehicle employs two Rocketdyne booster engines which provide a combined thrust of 408,000 pounds. One Rocketdyne sustainer engine provides an additional 60,500 pounds of thrust at liftoff. All of the lower stage engines burn liquid oxygen/RP-1 (kerosene) liquid fuel.

In a departure from all previous Atlas applications, the Atlas II-Centaur does not carry vernier engines.

Rather, the interstage which connects the Centaur second stage with the rocket's lower stages houses two hydrazine-fueled modules. Each module contains two thruster units which can produce 100 pounds of thrust each. These interstage thrusters perform the roll and velocity trim stabilization functions previously handled by vernier engines.

An Integrated Apogee Boost Subsystem is employed specifically as an additional upper stage for DSCS satellite operations. This stage operates with twin Marquardt engines producing 110 pounds of thrust each.

The overall Integrated Apogee Boost Subsystem is 27 feet long and 9 feet, 6 inches wide and burns MMH and MON3 propellant. This booster is spin-stabilized at 30 revolutions per minute and is controlled by the satellite payload itself.

With the medium fairing, the Atlas II-Centaur can carry a 14,950-pound payload to low-Earth orbit, a 6,100-pound payload to geosynchronous transfer orbit or a 4,270-pound payload to Earth-escape trajectory.

With the large fairing, the Atlas II-Centaur can carry a 14,500-pound payload to low-Earth orbit, a 5,900-pound payload to geosynchronous transfer orbit or a 4,020-pound payload to Earth-escape trajectory.

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