United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket made a triumphant return to the skies on Sunday after a 10-month hiatus. The rocket’s mission was to deploy multiple satellites into geosynchronous orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the US Space Force.
This successful launch also marked the end of the Atlas V program, as ULA shifts its focus to the new Vulcan rocket. Despite the transition, there are still 18 more Atlas V flights on ULA’s launch schedule. These flights will carry satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper broadband network and launch astronauts aboard Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule.
Customer delays were cited as the primary reason for the gap in launches. Delays in the test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule and a US Space Force mission contributed to the extended hiatus. However, the wait was worth it, as the NRO provided some information about the mission. The satellites on board will track the movements of other spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit, specifically focusing on Chinese and Russian satellite activity.
The Atlas V rocket successfully launched at 8:47 am EDT, with its Russian-made RD-180 main engine and five strap-on solid-fueled boosters igniting. After jettisoning its boosters, releasing its payload fairing, and separating its first stage, the Centaur upper stage continued to accelerate into orbit.
Approximately six hours later, the Centaur upper stage deployed the satellites into a geosynchronous orbit located approximately 22,000 miles above the equator. The payloads were successfully deployed into the proper orbit, showcasing the reliability and precision of the Atlas V rocket.
ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs expressed pride in the successful mission. He also highlighted the company’s specialization in high-energy orbits, emphasizing ULA’s commitment to delivering payloads to their intended destinations.
While the Atlas V program may be coming to an end, the rocket will continue to fly for several more years. It will launch Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule and serve as a backup for crew transportation services to the International Space Station. ULA has plans to transition to the new Vulcan rocket in the future, which will be equipped with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines.
Overall, the launch on Sunday was the 98th Atlas V mission and the final Atlas V launch for the NRO. It marked a successful milestone for ULA and showcased their dedication to advancing space exploration and national security.
“Infuriatingly humble tv expert. Friendly student. Travel fanatic. Bacon fan. Unable to type with boxing gloves on.”