Originally created 02/25/97

Air Force launches its newest, strongest rocket



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The Air Force launched its newest, strongest rocket Sunday, a Titan 4-B carrying a satellite for detecting enemy missiles.

The 20-story unmanned rocket blasted into a cloudy sky from Cape Canaveral Air Station in midafternoon. Air Force officials said everything went well during the early portion of the flight.

It was the maiden journey of the Titan 4-B, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. for the Air Force. The rocket was equipped with two improved solid-fuel rocket motors made of lighter material, each providing 1.7 million pounds of thrust, as well as new guidance and self-destruct systems and simpler, standard electrical connections to the payload.

On board was the Pentagon's $200 million Defense Support Program satellite, destined for a 22,300-mile-high orbit. The entire mission cost about $500 million.

NASA observed the launch - which was more than a month late - with interest. The next Titan 4-B will be used to send the space agency's plutonium-powered Cassini probe to Saturn in October. Any major problems with Sunday's flight could have delayed Cassini.