Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Atlas rocket lofts advanced Navy communications satellite

An Atlas rocket lifted off on Wednesday thundering into the predawn sky over Cape Canaveral successfully delivering an advanced U.S. Navy communications satellite into orbit.

The successful United Launch Alliance Atlas mission was delayed two days by the potential track of tropical storm Erika last weekend. ULA mission managers opted to delay the launch based on Saturday's forecast of heavy rain and winds over central Florida on Monday.
ULA Atlas V lifts off on Sept. 2. photo: Lockheed Martin

A beautiful plume and smoke trail left behind in the wake of the predawn launch caught the attention of nearby residents on their way out the door. As sunrise neared, the translucent column grew into space artwork captured by photographers on social media from South Carolina south to Miami. The translucent 'tadpole' plume was created earlier by the five nearly emptied rocket boosters plumes and a single main engine.

The Navy's fourth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft will join a network of satellites providing enhanced military communications across the globe, ULA officials said on Tuesday. The Lockheed Martin-built MUOS system will in partnership give military personal the ability to send and receive high-speed voice, video and data while in remote regions.

The massive 7.5 ton satellite will orbit over a fixed point 22,236 miles high providing military personal a faster response time transmitting and receiving data on their wireless device. The U.S. armed forces will share the communications constellation.

“The most dangerous part of a satellite’s life is launch and getting into orbit," Iris Bombelyn, vice president of Narrowband Communications at Lockheed Martin said following launch."I really want to thank our entire team whose hard work prepared MUOS-4 for this mission-critical event and the Atlas team who ultimately carried us safely to our transfer orbit. We look forward to completing our on-orbit health checks and delivering this important asset to the U.S. Navy and these new capabilities to our mobile forces.”

The four satellite constellation located in geo-stationary orbit will work with four ground stations linked together via a fiber optic network, Lockheed Martin Space Systems spokesperson Chip Eschenfelder stated post-launch. "The warfighter will be able to talk to each other around the world on a secured Navy network. It will be like a cellphone network tower in the sky, whether they are in the middle of the ocean or in the jungle," Eschenfelder added.

As the countdown clock reached zero, the Atlas 5 main engine ignited followed by its five solid fueled boosters at 6:18:01 a.m. EDT, sending the white and bronze rocket skyward. The launch illuminated America's Space Coast for a brief moment as Atlas ascended into the night sky, and quickly became a fast moving star as it gained speed high over the Atlantic waters.

Nearly two minutes later, the now empty boosters were separated as the 205-foot tall rocket continued toward space on the power of its RD-180 main engine. The core booster separated nearly five minutes into the launch, and the Atlas' Centaur upper stage's engine began with a series of three timed burns.

Processed and built at the Decatur, Alabama ULA facility, the Atlas 5 booster and Centaur stages provide the rocket's propulsion throughout the launch profile. The 106-foot strap-on boosters are processed by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Sacramento, California.

MUOS-4 separated on-time from the Centaur at 9:12 a.m. as the craft was orbiting over the eastern Indian Ocean south of Indonesia. The spacecraft is expected to operate for nearly 15 years.

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