Tuesday, January 20, 2015

U.S. Navy MUOS3 spacecraft successfully launches from Cape Canaveral

A massive U.S. Navy military satellite designed to improve communications and data between troops in remote regions lifted-off on Tuesday from America's Space Coast on a planned decade long mission in geostationary orbit.

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft is the third in a fleet of five planned satellites designed to replace aging military communications satellites. The MUOS-3 system is expected to expand the military network by ten times the number of users than that of the existing SATCOM system, including voice, video and data.

"Five are planned, four operational and one on-orbit spare," stated Naval Commander Pete Sheehy minutes after launch. CDR Sheehy added MUOS 4 will launch this August, and the fleet of four satellites will be operational tested late this year. He likened MUOS as moving multiple cellular towers on the ground and placing them in geostationary orbit.

As the countdown entered a planned hold at 4 minutes, high upper levels winds and "command interference" with the Atlas V rocket delayed lift-off by 21 minutes. The interference left the range with the inability to send necessary destruct commands to the vehicle if an emergency occurred.

As the two issues cleared and the clock neared zero, the Atlas' RD-180 main engine ignited seconds before its five boosters.

The bronze and white Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday at 7:49 p.m. EST, with its heaviest payload to date. The Atlas V 551, powered by a core main engine and five strap on solid fuel boosters, leapt from the launch pad with 2.6 million pounds of thrust to carry its 7.4 ton payload.

As the rocket rose up and began to dart out over the Atlantic waters, night briefly turned to daylight as Atlas rode a 400-foot golden flame. Nearly two minutes later, the empty boosters were jettisoned two at a time while the lone main engine continued to burn.

Tuesday's launch occurred during President Obama's State of the Union address in which he promoted the use of military operations to stop terrorism foes in the Middle East.

MUOS 3 successfully deployed from the Centuar upper stage on time at 10:57 p.m., and into its planned orbit over an area northwest of Australia. The spacecraft will undergo several months of thruster firings to place MUOS in its proper orbit, and on orbit check outs.

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