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Mum’s the Word as Secret Launch Time Gets Aired

Times Science Writer

So much for government secrecy.

Pentagon officials had quietly passed the word among reporters covering the space shuttle here that a satellite would be launched on a Delta rocket Wednesday night from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as “Star Wars.”

Mum was to be the word, the officials said, until after the launch. Not even the date, let alone the time, was to be released.

Never mind that shrimp boat captains had been warned to stay out of the area between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. PST Wednesday, or that the trade magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology estimated the satellite launch time earlier this month, or that a NASA spokesman actually announced the launch time during a televised shuttle briefing Wednesday morning.

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Press Kit Overflows

Even the Defense Department’s own press kit overflowed with information about the satellite.

That’s because the payload isn’t classified, just the time of the launch, said Terry Monrad, a spokesman for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

“We’ll tell you all kinds of things about it,” Monrad said as he handed a reporter a complete press kit on the payload--but only after the reporter agreed not to break the embargo on the launch, which had already been announced by the NASA spokesman.

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The rocket is the third in a series of launches under the “Delta Star” program. The satellite is designed to collect data on rockets as they are launched--"anything that moves,” as one Defense Department official said.

The Delta Star satellite will use eight sensors to help analysts tell what type of rocket has just been launched and whether it is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The embargo on reporting the launch time was lifted at 5:27 p.m. PST, one minute after the blastoff was postponed because of problems with gases in the propulsion system. “The Pogo supression unit malfunctioned,” the Air Force said.

The new launch time is embargoed.


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