The largest Atlas rocket to fly from California blasted off tonight on a successful mission to deliver the classified NROL-35 satellite to polar orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. Following a one day delay due to bad weather, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V-541 lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3 at 10:19 p.m. EST.

“We are honored to deliver the NROL-35 spacecraft to orbit together with our customers, the NRO Office of Space Launch and the Air Force,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “This mission was launched on the most powerful Atlas ever launched from California with more than 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust. This was enabled by the addition of the four solid rocket motors, providing additional performance as required to meet our customer’s needs.”

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) 541 configuration vehicle, which includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing along with four Aerojet Rocketdyne solid rocket motors attached to the Atlas booster. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the inaugural flight of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

“This launch was an incredible achievement for Team Vandenberg, ULA, NRO and our other fellow launch partners,” said Balts. “This Atlas V launch marked the last of the year and I am very proud of the teamwork that led to the success of not only today’s launch, but those that preceded. The hard work and dedication of everyone involved continues to ensure our nation’s access to space. This was especially evident by our base electricians who worked tirelessly through last night’s extreme weather to ensure power was available for launch.”

This was the most powerful Atlas V rocket to be launched launched from Vandenberg, with four solid rocket boosters, producing approximately 250,000 pounds of thrust per solid rocket. These four solids along with the main engine of the Atlas V produced a total thrust around 2 million pounds at liftoff.

“This has been an exciting mission” said 1st Lt. Adam Rich, Lead Atlas V Engineer for the 4th Space Launch Squadron. “Not only is it the first use of four solid rocket boosters on an Atlas here at Vandenberg, but it is also the first launch a new second stage engine design.”

“ULA is extremely pleased with this first flight of the new, RL10C-1 engine,” said Sponnick. “We have been working closely with Aerojet Rocketdyne and our Air Force customers for several years to develop and extensively test this next-generation engine to enable the most reliable and cost-effective upper stage propulsion for our Atlas and Delta programs.”

The Atlas V first stage booster landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard the Antanov AV-124. After all the rocket components arrive here at Vandenberg, they go through a receipt inspection and are then transported to the pad for stacking in an operation known as Launch Vehicle on Stand. Since LVOS, engineers and technicians have been working around the clock to complete all the installations, system checkouts, and tests necessary for launch.

ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellite for the United States Navy scheduled for Jan. 20, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.


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