Atlas V Totally Stacked, Targets SBIRS GEO-5 Launch NET 17 Might « AmericaSpace

The Frequent Core Booster (CCB) is raised upright, forward of emplacement within the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41. Photograph Credit score: ULA

No sooner has the mud settled from the primary United Launch Alliance (ULA) mission of 2021—final week’s flight of a Delta IV Heavy from Vandenberg Air Power Base, Calif., laden with the extremely categorised NROL-82 payload for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace—than a workhorse Atlas V rocket stands ready within the wings for its personal mid-Might trip to orbit. Earlier this week, ULA introduced that the car had accomplished preliminary structural “build-up” within the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF), close to House Launch Complicated (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral House Power Station, Fla. At present focused to launch no ahead of 17 Might, the mission will ship the fifth geostationary-orbiting factor of the House-Based mostly Infrared System (SBIRS GEO-5) for the U.S. House Power.

An Atlas V, flying in its “411” configuration with a single solid-fueled booster, launches the SBIRS GEO-4 mission in January 2018. Video Credit score: AmericaSpace

As beforehand reported by AmericaSpace, the flight {hardware} for the Atlas V arrived safely in Port Canaveral on 1 April. The 107-foot-long (32.6-meter) Frequent Core Booster (CCB) for the rocket, along with its 41-foot-long (12.6-meter) Centaur higher stage, departed ULA’s manufacturing web site in Decatur, Ala., on 23 March and traveled by way of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, aboard the R/S RocketShip transport vessel. Shortly after its arrival on the House Coast, the Centaur was transferred to ULA’s services for flight preparations, while the Atlas V CCB headed by way of flatbed truck to the ordnance bay within the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Middle (ASOC).

Right here it was put via preliminary preparations and declared able to start stacking operations for launch. Vertical integration of the two-stage rocket with its two Aerojet Rocketdyne-provided AJ-60A solid-fueled boosters started on 21 April within the cavernous inside of the VIF, when the Atlas V was hoisted upright on the Cell Launch Platform (MLP). This accomplished the Launch Car On Stand (LVOS) milestone, which formally marked the beginning of the SBIRS GEO-5 launch marketing campaign.

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The Centaur higher stage departs the R/S RocketShip vessel at Port Canaveral in early April. Photograph Credit score: ULA

Final weekend, the 2 AJ-60A boosters—every standing 55.7 ft (17 meters) tall—have been put in on reverse sides of the Atlas V CCB. With a mixed propulsive yield of slightly below 760,000 kilos (340,000 kg), they may afford the stack greater than half of its power at liftoff. It will mark the fortieth use of AJ-60-class boosters on Atlas V missions since July 2003. The newest flight of an Atlas V with the boosters occurred throughout final summer time’s launch of the Perseverance mission to Mars. ULA intends to step by step retire its current inventory of AJ-60As over the approaching months, in favor of Northrop Grumman’s GEM-63 booster, which first flew throughout final November’s NROL-101 mission.

Final Monday, the essential structural “build-up” of the Atlas V was accomplished with the Off-site Vertical Integration (OVI) milestone, with the attachment of the inter-stage factor, the Centaur higher stage and the bottom of the Payload Fairing (PLF). Within the coming days, the rocket will likely be powered up, its flight controls completely checked out, its engine steering profiles carried out and a Mixed Programs Take a look at undertaken. Subsequent week, the PLF—housing the SBIRS GEO-5 spacecraft—will likely be lifted onto the booster to top-off the stack at a peak of 194 ft (59 meters).

The Centaur higher stage is hoisted into place atop the Atlas V CCB final week. Photograph Credit score: ULA

With two solids, a 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) fairing and a single-engine Centaur, the Atlas V for SBIRS GEO-5 is designated “421” and can mark the eighth use of this specific configuration of the rocket since October 2007. It most not too long ago noticed service for the October 2017 launch of NROL-52 for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace. Along with a pair of missions for the NRO, different previous clients have included two Wideband World Satcoms (WGS) for the U.S. House Power, two business communications satellites and NASA’s 2015-launched Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS). All informed, the 421 configuration can elevate as much as 30,800 kilos (14,000 kg) to low-Earth orbit or as much as 15,200 kilos (6,890 kg) to Geostationary Switch Orbit (GTO).

Uniquely, Might’s launch would be the first time an Atlas V has flown within the 421 configuration to elevate a SBIRS GEO satellite tv for pc to orbit. The primary three SBIRS GEO missions in Might 2011, March 2013 and January 2017 rode atop “401” boosters, with no strap-on rockets, though January 2018’s launch occurred on a “411” with a single facet booster.

The newest use of an Atlas V in its “421” configuration got here in October 2017 with the NROL-52 launch. Photograph Credit score: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

ULA CEO Tory Bruno famous on the time of the SBIRS GEO-4 launch that the extra impetus afforded by the only strong offered “sufficient power to permit Centaur to be instantly deorbited” after its mission, moderately than inserting it into a delegated disposal (or “junkyard”) orbit for slower decay and eventual re-entry. It’s believed that the extra efficiency afforded by the 421 will allow a extra optimized orbit for the payload.

SBIRS GEO-5 accomplished an ahead-of-schedule development and testing marketing campaign final October, with the elimination of pointless programmatic oversight and reporting, a restructured take a look at program and a streamlined manufacturing schedule having enabled Lockheed Martin Corp. to complete SBIRS GEO-5 in solely 5 years. Described as a “international guardian” for ballistic missile detection and protection, it’s the fifth geostationary factor of an upgraded set of space-based infrared “eyes” and follows 4 earlier missions additionally launched atop Atlas Vs between Might 2011 and January 2018.

Video Credit score: AmericaSpace

SBIRS kinds a part of a multi-billion-dollar Pentagon effort to interchange the sooner Protection Help Program (DSP) community of early-warning satellites, whose personal ancestry extends again to the Seventies. It’s anticipated to allow america’ area surveillance wants for the subsequent twenty years, with focuses together with superior early warning, missile protection and battlespace characterization. In its ultimate kind, it should comprise six GEO satellites at geostationary altitude, along with adjunct sensors aboard the HEO-1 and HEO-2 satellites, which have been inserted into highly-elliptical orbits again in June 2006 and March 2008.

The profitable launch of SBIRS GEO-1 in Might 2011 marked the end result of a protracted and tortured growth course of, which noticed prices balloon by over 400 % from an estimated $4 billion to over $17 billion. Based on Common Accounting Workplace (GAO) auditors, as reported by Protection Business Day by day in February 2013, this system suffered from “immature applied sciences, unclear necessities, unstable funding, underestimated software program complexity [and] poor oversight”.

Video Credit score: Lockheed Martin

As circumstances transpired, the Air Power’s obvious lack of options for an pressing nationwide requirement to have a sophisticated infrared surveillance system in orbit to actively monitor ballistic missile launches and nuclear occasions appears to have prevented SBIRS’ cancelation. Its capabilities embrace extremely refined scanning/staring sensors, with improved infrared sensitivity and the scope to offer wide-area (“scanning”) surveillance and small-area (“staring”) observations. Three additional SBIRS GEO satellites have been launched in March 2013, January 2017 and January 2018.

Within the meantime, a $284.4 million contract for the acquisition of long-lead objects for GEO-5 and GEO-6 have been awarded in March 2013, forward of the definitive $1.86 billion deal between the Air Power and Lockheed Martin in June 2014 to manufacture each satellites. On the time of the award, it was famous that the contract shaped a part of “a considerate acquisition technique aimed toward additional lowering price and cycle time”. Particularly, greater than a billion {dollars}’ value of saving have been achieved via “block-buy” contracting practices and the elimination of pointless program oversight and reporting, a restructured take a look at program and a streamlined manufacturing schedule.

Pictured throughout acoustic testing final yr, SBIRS GEO-5 is the fifth geostationary-orbiting factor of the House-Based mostly Infrared System. Photograph Credit score: Lockheed Martin

In September 2017, each the GEO-5 and GEO-6 satellites wrapped up their Important Design Evaluate (CDR) at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, Calif., facility, with Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of SMC’s Distant Sensor Programs Directorate, praising the “resiliency” of this system. Upon the completion of the CDR, each satellites moved instantly into manufacturing and integration. 

In February 2019, ULA was awarded a $441.6 million contract to launch three payloads—together with SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6—with an expectation that the GEO-5 factor would fly atop an Atlas V from House Launch Complicated (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Power Station, Fla., as early as March 2021.

SBIRS GEO-5 arrival in Florida. Video Credit score: Armed Forces Archives/YouTube

GEO-5 pressed easily via Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing final summer time, which constituted a “main milestone” in readying the satellite tv for pc for ultimate meeting. “Lockheed Martin House overcame COVID-19-related challenges,” famous the Air Power, “to take care of meeting and take a look at operations with minimal impacts.” Following its completion final fall, SBIRS GEO-5 was delivered aboard a C-5M Tremendous Galaxy transport plane from Moffett Airfield in California to the House Coast in March.

The design of SBIRS GEO-5 marks the inaugural use of Lockheed Martin’s closely modernized LM2100 “Fight Bus”, carrying twin photo voltaic arrays and a strong communications and imaging payload. In what has been described as a “technical refresh replace”, their newer parts and extra fashionable electronics are anticipated to attain a lift in functionality and reliability.

The Payload Fairing (PLF) for SBIRS GEO-5 was delivered from ULA’s facility in Harlingen, Texas, earlier in April. Photograph Credit score: ULA

The brand new SBIRS advantages from 26 enhancements, starting from improved cyber-hardening, better spacecraft energy, propulsion and electronics, frequent parts to streamline manufacturing and a versatile design structure. Based on Lockheed Martin, the LM2100 Fight Bus structure will even kind the baseline for the upcoming Subsequent-Technology Overhead Passive Infrared (Subsequent-Gen OPIR) Block 0 satellites and the World Positioning System (GPS) Block III Comply with-On sequence, each of that are anticipated to enter service across the center of this decade.

Led by the Infrared House Programs Directorate on the Air Power’s House and Missile Programs Middle (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Power Base in Los Angeles, Calif., the SBIRS GEO satellites and their floor programs are operated by the 460th House Wing at Buckley Air Power Base in Aurora, Colo. “SBIRS’ position as an ever-present, on-orbit guardian in opposition to international ballistic missile threats has by no means been extra essential,” mentioned Tom McCormick, Lockheed Martin’s vice chairman for OPIR Programs. “In 2019 alone, SBIRS detected practically one thousand missile launches, which is a couple of two-fold enhance in two years.”

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