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ULA Launches First Atlas V of the year

May 18th, 1:31 PM Est from SCL-41 at Canaveral Space Force Station

With the delay of Boeing’s OFT-2 mission where it will retest it’s Starliner crew capsule on a trip to the ISS (International Space Station) it has caused back ups with other launches for the company ULA (United Launch Alliance) That ended today though as they launched their first rocket of the year this afternoon. Using their Atlas V rocket in the 421 configuration the ULA team launched SBIRS GEO FLIGHT 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force & Missile Systems Center. It is the fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO 5) satellite which will serve as a missile detection and early warning system for the United States. Of course this wouldn’t come with out a one day slip in the schedule as there was an anomalous system response discovered during the Centaur LOX (liquid oxygen) chill down operations. A team was sent to the pad to try and solve the issue during the launch window, but was unable to get things improved in the forty minutes of allotted time.

Today’s forecast was predicted at 80% GO for launch by the newly redesignated Space Delta 45, formally the 45th Space Wing. This is slightly less favorable than yesterday’s 90% with Cumulous clouds still being the main potential hazard on the forecast and the skies were fairly cloudy, yet it turned out to be a beautiful day on the space coast and the countdown went as planned. We’ve had a bit of cool weather through the area this weekend and today’s high was only eighty degrees which made it just about the perfect day for those going out to watch ULA launch their bird.

This was the 144th mission for ULA and it’s 87th Atlas V launch, the eighth of those in the 421 configuration. 421 means that the rocket has a four meter fairing, two SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) and a single engine upper stage. Inside those four meter fairings sits the payload, SBIRS GEO 5. Currently there are four SBIRS GEO satellites in orbit, all launched between 2011 to 2018. These satellites use staring and scanning infrared sensors to detect missile launches and provide advanced warnings and are designed to replace the Defense Support Program which are the country’s early warning satellites made by Northrop Grumman operating since the 1970’s.

This GEO-5 satellite along with the not yet launched GEO-6 were designed and built by Lockheed Martin and will be the first to use the military variant of the LM 2100 bus, called the LM2100 Combat Bus, which has enhanced security features. The three axis stabilized satellites have Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) scanning, and staring sensors. Sensor pointing is accomplished with mirrors inside the telescopes and are designed to provide greater flexibility and sensitivity than the DSP (Defense Support Program) and can detect short-wave and expanded mid-wave infrared signals which allows the system to perform a broader set of missions. Lockheed was awarded 82 million dollars in 2012 to start the beginning work on these two satellites with a further 1.86 billion awarded in 2014 to complete the program. With the enhanced capabilities of these two satellites the country will have an improved accuracy for global strategic and tactical warfighters.

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