ULA Primed for 17 Could Launch, First of Eight Atlas V Missions for 2021 « AmericaSpace

Containing the SBIRS GEO-5 payload, the Further-Prolonged Payload Fairing (XEPF) is readied for hoisting atop the Atlas V final week. Picture Credit score: ULA

A busy plate of United Launch Alliance (ULA) missions for the rest of 2021 continues to take form, following Friday’s completion of stacking operations of a Mighty Atlas V booster at Area Launch Advanced (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Area Drive Station, Fla. The ultimate topping-off of the rocket concerned set up of the Further-Prolonged Payload Fairing (XEPF), with launch focused for 1:35 p.m. EDT on Monday, 17 Could. The mission will ship the fifth geostationary aspect of the U.S. Area Drive’s Area-Primarily based Infrared System (SBIRS GEO-5) to orbit and marks the eighth flight of an Atlas V in its “421” configuration, geared up with a 13-foot-wide (4-meter) fairing, two strap-on solid-fueled boosters and a single-engine Centaur higher stage.

The latest SBIRS flew in January 2018. Video Credit score: ULA

The XEPF is a two-piece (or “bisector”) shell-like fairing, which affords vibrational, acoustic and aerodynamic safety for SBIRS GEO-5 through the launch and ascent part; will probably be jettisoned within the rarefied excessive ambiance to show this crucial early-warning satellite tv for pc to the house setting. Standing 45 toes (13.7 meters) tall, the XEPF contains an aluminum pores and skin/stringer development, with vertical split-line longerons. After integration of the XEPF, the Atlas V—which is ready to embark on its 87th mission—rises a towering 194 toes (59.1 meters) above the Cell Launch Platform (MLP).

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) Widespread Core Booster (CCB) for the rocket, along with its 41-foot-long (12.6-meter) Centaur higher stage, departed ULA’s manufacturing website in Decatur, Ala., on 23 March and traveled through the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, aboard the R/S RocketShip transport vessel. Shortly after its arrival on the Area Coast, the Centaur was transferred to ULA’s amenities for flight preparations, while the Atlas V CCB headed through flatbed truck to the ordnance bay within the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Middle (ASOC).

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SBIRS GEO-5 mission art work on the XEPF. Picture Credit score: ULA

Right here it was put via preliminary preparations and declared able to begin 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 MLP. This accomplished the Launch Automobile On Stand (LVOS) milestone and formally marked the beginning of the SBIRS GEO-5 launch marketing campaign.

Late final month, the 2 AJ-60A boosters—every standing 55.7 toes (17 meters) tall—had 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’ll 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 latest flight of an Atlas V with the boosters occurred throughout final summer season’s launch of the Perseverance mission to Mars.

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The Centaur higher stage is affixed to the Atlas V late final month. Picture Credit score: ULA

ULA intends to step by step retire its present 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. “They’re being lower into our launches utilizing a pre-defined schedule,” ULA’s Heather McFarland instructed AmericaSpace of the upgraded boosters, “with the entire transition to GEM-63s within the close to future.”

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 explicit configuration of the rocket since October 2007. It most just lately 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 prospects have included two Wideband International Satcoms (WGS) for the U.S. Area Drive, two industrial communications satellites and NASA’s 2015-launched Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS). All instructed, the 421 configuration can carry 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).

Video Credit score: AmericaSpace

Uniquely, Could’s launch would be the first time an Atlas V has flown within the 421 configuration to carry a SBIRS GEO satellite tv for pc to orbit. The primary three SBIRS GEO missions in Could 2011, March 2013 and January 2017 rode “401” boosters, with no strap-on rockets, though January 2018’s launch occurred on a “411” with a single aspect booster. ULA CEO Tory Bruno famous on the time of the SBIRS GEO-4 launch that the extra impetus afforded by the one stable supplied “sufficient power to permit Centaur to be instantly deorbited” after its mission, relatively 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 check program and a streamlined manufacturing schedule having enabled Lockheed Martin Corp. to complete SBIRS GEO-5 in solely 5 years. Described as a “world guardian” for ballistic missile detection and protection, it’s the fifth geostationary aspect of an upgraded set of space-based infrared “eyes” and follows 4 earlier missions additionally launched atop Atlas Vs between Could 2011 and January 2018.

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Not like SBIRS GEO-4 in January 2018, the upcoming GEO-5 mission will make the most of two strap-on boosters for added efficiency. Picture Credit score: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

SBIRS kinds a part of a multi-billion-dollar Pentagon effort to exchange the sooner Protection Assist Program (DSP) community of early-warning satellites, whose personal ancestry extends again to the Nineteen Seventies. It’s anticipated to allow america’ house surveillance wants for the subsequent 20 years, with focuses together with superior early warning, missile protection and battlespace characterization. In its last kind, it’ll comprise six GEO satellites at geostationary altitude, along with adjunct sensors aboard the HEO-1 and HEO-2 satellites, which had been inserted into highly-elliptical orbits again in June 2006 and March 2008.

The profitable launch of SBIRS GEO-1 in Could 2011 marked the fruits of an extended and tortured growth course of, which noticed prices balloon by over 400 p.c from an estimated $4 billion to over $17 billion. In accordance with Normal Accounting Workplace (GAO) auditors, as reported by Protection Business Every 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 Drive’s obvious lack of alternate 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 embody 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 had 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 had been awarded in March 2013, forward of the definitive $1.86 billion deal between the Air Drive 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 geared toward additional decreasing price and cycle time”. Specifically, greater than a billion {dollars}’ price of saving had been achieved via “block-buy” contracting practices and the elimination of pointless program oversight and reporting, a restructured check program and a streamlined manufacturing schedule.

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SBIRS in orbit. Picture Credit score: Lockheed Martin

In September 2017, each the GEO-5 and GEO-6 satellites wrapped up their Essential Design Overview (CDR) at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, Calif., facility, with Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of SMC’s Distant Sensor Methods 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 aspect would fly atop an Atlas V from Area Launch Advanced (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Drive Station, Fla., as early as March 2021.

GEO-5 pressed easily via Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing final summer season, which constituted a “main milestone” in readying the satellite tv for pc for last meeting. “Lockheed Martin Area overcame COVID-19-related challenges,” famous the Air Drive, “to keep up meeting and check 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 Area Coast in March.

Video Credit score: Armed Forces Archives/YouTube

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

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SBIRS GEO-5 accomplished structural and environmental testing in December. Picture Credit score: Lockheed Martin

Led by the Infrared Area Methods Directorate on the Air Drive’s Area and Missile Methods Middle (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Drive Base in Los Angeles, Calif., the SBIRS GEO satellites and their floor programs are operated by the 460th Area Wing at Buckley Air Drive Base in Aurora, Colo. “SBIRS’ position as an ever-present, on-orbit guardian in opposition to world ballistic missile threats has by no means been extra crucial,” mentioned Tom McCormick, Lockheed Martin’s vp for OPIR Methods. “In 2019 alone, SBIRS detected almost one thousand missile launches, which is a few two-fold improve in two years.”

Along with SBIRS GEO-5, the Atlas V may even be transporting a pair of “Multi-Manifest Satellite tv for pc Autos” on behalf of the Multi-Manifest Workplace of the Area and Missile Methods Middle (SMC), headquartered at Los Angeles Air Drive Base in Los Angeles, Calif., in partnership with the U.S. Air Drive Academy. Designated “TDO-3” and “TDO-4”, the 2 12U CubeSats—every measuring roughly 7.8 x 7.8 x 13.4 inches (20 x 20 x 34 cm)—are set to be deployed shortly earlier than SBIRS GEO-5 itself.

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SBIRS GEO-5 undergoes Thermal Vacuum Chamber (TVAC) testing final yr. Picture Credit score: Lockheed Martin

Little has been revealed about their exact targets, with ULA noting solely that “a multi-manifest mission set permits extra functionality to be positioned on-orbit”, with the eventual objective of “offering extra crucial capabilities to the warfighter”. Two earlier missions with related designators, TDO-1 and TDO-2, rode aboard Atlas Vs in August 2019 and March 2020, alongside the second-to-last and final Superior Extraordinarily Excessive Frequency (AEHF) navy communications satellites. Within the case of TDO-2, the small satellite tv for pc was launched from its perch on the aft-facing finish of the Centaur higher stage a few half-hour after liftoff. The 2 missions targeted upon a variety of orbital particles monitoring and house area consciousness performance duties.

Coming solely three weeks for the reason that spectacular 26 April launch of an enormous Delta IV Heavy booster from Vandenberg Air Drive Base, Calif.—laden with the labeled NROL-82 payload for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace—an in any other case flightless spring for ULA appears to be giving approach to a busy second half of the yr. Following SBIRS GEO-5, a long-delayed mission in help of Area Take a look at Program (STP) targets is presently focused for June, with the second uncrewed Orbital Flight Take a look at (OFT-2) of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) now formally scheduled for 30 July.

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Crew Flight Take a look at (CFT) Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore (proper) and Joint Operations Commander (JOC) Mike Fincke take part within the launch part of an built-in mission costume rehearsal for OFT-2 final month. Picture Credit score: NASA

Heading into the late summer season and fall, a pair of labeled U.S. Area Drive missions—USSF-8 in August on an Atlas V in its never-before-flown “511” configuration and USSF-12 earlier than yr’s finish—shall be joined in December by the newest Geostationary Operational Surroundings Satellite tv for pc (GOES-T) for the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and in October by NASA’s formidable, decade-long Lucy mission to discover a half-dozen Trojan-class asteroids. All of those flights will originate from Cape Canaveral Area Drive Station, with the launch of Landsat-9 focused for September from Vandenberg.

It stays to be seen if the Crew Flight Take a look at (CFT) of the CST-100 Starliner will fly this yr. In current months, there was a lot hypothesis that Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Pilot Nicole Mann and Joint Operations Commander (JOC) Mike Fincke will not be more likely to fly their CFT mission till about six months after OFT-2, which might place their launch someday within the spring 2022 timeframe. In any case, as ULA’s manifest for the second half of 2021 gathers tempo, it appears to be like more and more possible that the current Delta IV Heavy launch shall be adopted by as many as eight Atlas Vs and maybe the maiden voyage of the Vulcan-Centaur heavylifter earlier than New 12 months’s Eve.

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