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Launch of Titan 2 Termed Successful Despite ‘Flash’

Times Science Writer

The launch of a secret military payload from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday was successful despite reports that the first stage of the Titan 2 exploded moments after separating from the rest of the liquid-fueled rocket, Air Force officials said Tuesday.

“The launch was successful,” a spokesman at Vandenberg Air Force Base said after a local newspaper published a story saying that observers on the ground saw the 63-foot-long first stage explode, apparently after completing its part of the mission. It can take several days, however, for satellites to be maneuvered into proper position and checked out even after reaching orbit.

The first stage powers the rocket only during the first phase of flight, and then drops away as the 27-foot-long second stage carries the payload toward orbit.

The Lompoc Record said observers who were familiar with Titan launches saw a crimson flash after the separation, suggesting that fuel vapors in its tank may have ignited. The newspaper is published in the Central California coastal community where many people who work at the base live.

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Although problems with the first stage at that point in the rocket’s flight would not necessarily have any impact on the performance of the upper stage, the Air Force officially refused to comment on the report.

“The word is, I can’t really talk about it,” one official said, noting that the position of the Defense Department is to say nothing about its launches.

An official with the Air Force Space Division in Los Angeles also refused to comment on the report and insisted there had been no problems with the launch.

The Associated Press quoted an anonymous source as saying the “satellites are moving exactly as they should be.” That statement indicates that the payload consisted of more than one satellite, consistent with reports from civilian space experts who believe that the Titan launched up to four satellites for the Navy’s White Cloud Ocean Surveillance System. That system is designed to monitor Soviet ships at sea.

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