Perhaps it was planned that way. As the 18th annual Space Symposium was coming to an end last week, the last of the Titan rockets rolled out at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Canyon facility.
Titans have launched satellites and spacecraft into orbit for over 40 years. They launched several two-man Gemini missions in the 1960s, launched the first spacecraft to land on Mars, and have been the workhorse of the U.S. launch business.
“This is a bittersweet day for Lockheed Martin,” said Vance Coffman, chairperson and chief executive officer. “We are celebrating a proud history and the end of our most successful program in U.S. space history.”
The Titans were developed as intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBM’s, and were America’s first line of defense during the cold war. The first missile was launched in 1959.
At 204 feet tall, the Titan is the most powerful U.S. launch vehicle. They’re named for the mythical Greed gods who ruled the heavens.
The final Titan IV to roll out was the 528th such vehicle and will be shipped out at the end of the month.
Air Force Undersecretary Peter Teets, who spoke at the Space Symposium, said the Titans put into orbit satellites that continue to gather information in the war against terrorism.
Teets, who once headed Lockheed Martin Astronautics, and former astronaut Ed Aldridge, now Defense Undersecretary, are considered to be the Titan’s founders. Aldridge recalled last week how in 1986 after the Challenger shuttle exploded, he convinced President Ronald Reagan of the need for a second way to launch satellites.
Seven more Titan launches are planned, with the final coming next year. They will carry national security payloads, officials said.
The Titans met their demise because of the Atlas V, said to be more reliable, to perform better, and to cost less. The first Atlas V will be launched in July.
The demise of the Titan will mean the loss of about 700 jobs at Lockheed’s Denver operation. Officials said about half will be cut by attrition.