Putting on a spectacular pre-sunrise light show, a United Launch Alliance successfully orbited the U.S. Navy’s fourth Mobile User Objective System satellite on September 2, blasting off at 6:18 am EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral AFS.
Delayed nineteen minutes to resolve technical issues on the ground, the Atlas V vehicle’s RD-180 engine roared to life. A split-second later, ignition of the rocket’s five solid rocket boosters and liftoff bathed the Florida coast with an early dawn as the rocket raced eastward over the Atlantic Ocean on its way to orbit.
Two minutes after launch, the solid fuel boosters were jettisoned, having spent their propellant, and leaving the Atlas core stage to continute for a few more minutes before it shut down and separated.
Atlas climbed higher and downrange under the thrust of its liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fueled single-engine Centaur upper stage, eventually meeting light from the rising Sun. What followed was a gorgeous, almost aurora-like show as the rocket’s exhaust (water vapor) captured and reflected the sunlight and created a brilliant teardrop-like contrail spreading out over the sky. The effect led many who saw it across the entire southern half of Florida to believe the rocket had exploded and left television news crews at the press site commenting in wonder.
As the vehicle neared the horizon, the Centaur’s RL-10C engine shutdown to complete the first of three burns to place MUOS-4 into geostationary transfer orbit. MUOS-4 now will use its own thrusters to raise its perigee and circularize the orbit 22,300 miles above the equator.
MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system, built by Lockheed Martin, designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move. The system will undergo Multiservice Operational Test and Evaluation beginning this December and will achieve Full Operational Capability in 2017.
“Delivery of this fourth satellite for the U.S. Navy completes the initial MUOS constellation and provides near-global coverage for the network,” said Iris Bombelyn, vice president of Narrowband Communications at Lockheed Martin. “For our mobile forces, that means for the first time they will be able to have secure, high-fidelity voice conversations, networked team calls and data exchange, including video, with anyone around the world connected with a MUOS terminal.”
The U.S. Navy’s MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed using a combination of orbiting satellites and relay ground stations to significantly improve communications for U.S. forces on the move. MUOS will provide new beyond-line-of-sight communications capabilities to connect military users almost anywhere around the globe.
The MUOS-4 spacecraft will bring advanced, new, global communications capabilities to mobile military forces, as well as ensure continued mission capability of the existing ultra high frequency satellite communications system. According to the U.S. Navy’s Communications Satellite Program Office, MUOS works like a smartphone network in space, vastly improving secure satellite communications for mobile U.S. forces with data capabilities on an Internet protocol based network.
MUOS is supported by the Army’s Project Manager for Tactical Radios. According to the U.S. Army, MUOS will use Earth-orbiting satellites as the equivalent of cell phone towers in space and will connect U.S. forces on ships, in submarines, aircraft, and vehicles. It provides the vital link between troops in advanced positions or remote areas and the rest of the Department of Defense military global network.
This is ULA’s eighth launch in 2015, the second MUOS satellite launched in 2015 and ULA’s 99th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.
“The ULA team is proud to support the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force by delivering this critical communications asset to orbit today,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “Today’s successful launch will enable the MUOS constellation to reach global coverage. The Lockheed Martin built MUOS-4 satellite will deliver voice, data, and video communications capability, similar to a cellular network, to our troops all over the globe.”
This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) 551 configuration vehicle, which includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing along with five 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 Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.
Launch of MUOS-4 was supported by the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing which manages the Eastern Range for civilian and military launch services. Today’s mission marked the first launch for new Wing commander Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith.
“Here at the 45th we measure success one launch at a time,” said Brig. Gen. Monteith. “With this being my first launch as the 45th SW Commander, I can tell you the road to achieving that success is no small task. It takes a blended team of military, civilian and contracted professionals driving toward the same objective of getting that rocket into space. I am proud of the hard work our team put into today’s launch and it goes without saying that there’s nothing more exciting than being a part of a team that provides assured access to space…that’s our charge. We did it today, we’ll do it tomorrow and there’s nothing quite like it. Great work team.”
ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V Morelos-3, communications satellite for Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services and Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes, a government agency of Mexico, scheduled for a predawn liftoff on October 2 from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral.
(Matthew Travis / Zero-G News)
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