CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – The Delta IV EELV returned to flight today after experiencing upper state problems on its last mission. The rocket successfully launched the fifth Air Force Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-5) from Space Launch Complex-37, with liftoff occurring at 8:27 p.m. EDT and separation of WGS-5 40 minutes later. Notably, the launch took place just nine days after United Launch Alliance successfully launched the GPS IIF-4 satellite May 15 aboard its Altas V launch vehicle.

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Liftoff of the ULA Delta IV Medium rocket carrying the WGS-5 spacecraft for the United States Air Force. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / Zero-G News

Liftoff of the ULA Delta IV Medium rocket carrying the WGS-5 spacecraft for the United States Air Force. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / Zero-G News

“United Launch Alliance and our many mission partners continue to focus on mission success, one launch at a time,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “We are honored to work with such a strong industry and government team and deliver another critical communication capability to orbit to support our nation’s warfighters throughout the world.”

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium-plus configuration vehicle using a single ULA common booster core powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) RS-68 main engine, along with four ATK GEM 60 solid rocket motors. The five-meter diameter upper stage was powered by a PWR RL10B-2 engine with the satellite encapsulated in a five-meter diameter composite payload fairing. The WGS-5 launch marked the third flight of the Delta IV medium+ (5,4) configuration and the 22nd flight of the Delta IV family of launch vehicles.

This was the first Delta IV launch following the low engine performance that was identified on the successful Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-3 launch last October. Although the GPS IIF-3 spacecraft was accurately placed into the required orbit, ULA, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) and our U.S. Air Force teammates embarked on an investigation to determine why the upper stage engine performance was lower than expected. Prior to this mission, rigorous hardware inspections along with vehicle and operational design modifications were implemented to prevent a recurrence of the fuel leak in the RL10 engine that was the direct cause of the low engine performance on the GPS IIF-3 launch.

This was the third time the Delta IV medium-plus rocket featured four ATK 60-inch diameter Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM-60). The 53-foot-long motors were mounted in pairs on opposing sides of the rocket, with one fixed and one vectorable nozzle per side. They burned for 90 seconds and provided more than 1.1 million pounds of thrust to assist delivery of the WGS-5 satellite to its determined orbit. The composite cases, nose cones and aeroskirts for the GEM motors were fabricated at ATK’s Clearfield, Utah, facility. The solid rocket motors were produced at ATK’s Magna, Utah, facility. ATK has manufactured 58 GEM-60 boosters for the Delta IV launch vehicle since the initial flight in 2002.

“ATK’s extensive involvement with this launch is indicative of the company’s broad capabilities in the aerospace and space markets,” said Blake Larson, president of ATK Aerospace Group. “We are pleased to continue our strong relationships with our customers on this mission.”

The nozzle for Delta IV’s RS-68 engine was designed and manufactured at ATK’s Promontory, Utah, facility. The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne-built RS-68 is the largest hydrogen-fueled engine in the world. ATK also designed and produced the nozzle’s thermal protection material, which is capable of shielding the nozzle from the extreme heat of launch when external temperatures can exceed 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The team has worked tremendously hard and exceptionally well to complete a robust investigation and get us to a successful launch today,” said Sponnick. “We sincerely thank the PWR team and our customer community for working with us throughout the investigation and flight clearance process, as well as the involvement from senior industry technical advisors.”

WGS-5 is the fifth satellite delivered by prime contractor Boeing as part of the WGS system that provides flexible, high-capacity communications for the nation’s warfighters. WGS provides an order of magnitude increase in military communications bandwidth, providing high data rate and long-haul communications for Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen worldwide. WGS is the only military satellite communications system that can support simultaneous X and Ka band communications.

Part of the Wideband SATCOM Division of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s MILSATCOM Directorate, the WGS system is composed of three principal segments: Space Segment (satellites), Control Segment (operators) and Terminal Segment (users). MILSATCOM is responsible for development, acquisition, fielding and sustainment of the WGS Program. Block II satellites 5 and 6 are projected for launch in 2013. Block II follow-on satellites 7, 8 and 9 are anticipated for launch in FY16, FY17, and FY18 respectively. Satellites are launched either via the Delta IV or the Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.

“WGS continues to meet user requirements and provides the highest capacity of any DoD communications satellite,” said Mr. Luke Scab, chief Wideband SATCOM division, MILSATCOM Systems directorate. “WGS is a vital piece of the MILSATCOM enterprise consisting of WGS, Defense Satellite Communications System, Advanced Extremely High Frequency System, Minstar, and terminals providing diversified communications services to soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen around the world. This continued success is due to the hard work and dedication from the combined government and industry team.”

Each WGS satellite is digitally channelized and transponded. These characteristics provide a quantum leap in communications capacity, connectivity and flexibility for U.S. military forces and international partners while seamlessly integrating with current and future X- and Ka-band terminals. Just one WGS satellite provides more SATCOM capacity than the entire DSCS constellation. International partners participating on the program are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and New Zealand.

ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V MUOS-2 mission for the U.S. Navy scheduled for July 19, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.


Liftoff of the ULA Delta IV Medium rocket carrying the WGS-5 spacecraft for the United States Air Force. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / Zero-G News

Liftoff of the ULA Delta IV Medium rocket carrying the WGS-5 spacecraft for the United States Air Force. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / Zero-G News