ULA announces victory at Atlas 5 launch site with new solid rocket boosters

The Atlas 5 rocket flies from Cape Canaveral on Friday evening. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The United Launch Alliance successfully unveiled the ULA’s new solid fuel booster design Friday night from Cape Canaveral on top of the Atlas 5 rocket, a secret cargo for the U.S. government’s spy satellite company. Previous strap-on motors.

The new booster design, manufactured by Northrobe Krumman and named GEM63, replaces the AJ-60A solid rocket boosters from the previous Atlas 5 passenger-powered aerojet rocket.

The Russian-made RD-180 engine, equipped with three GEM 63 boosters and a kerosene fuel, produced the 206-foot (63 m) Atlas 5 for $ 1.8 million at 5:32 pm EST (2232) GMT on Friday from Cape Canaveral.

Three hours later, the ULA and the National Reassessment Office, which had loads paid for from the Atlas 5 rocket, released news reports announcing the success of the trip.

The Atlas 5 mission has been delayed several times since the original launch attempt scheduled for November 3rd.

The ULA Atlas 5 rocket was transferred to its hangar, the environmental control system for replacing the tube was injected into the payload above the launch air, set to the countdown on November 4, and then destroyed due to a problem with the ground valves in the launch pad pad 41 system.

Once the teams solved the valve problem, the ULA decided to return the rocket to its vertical hanger to protect it from bad weather from Tropical Storm Etta. Atlas 5 is set for a Friday afternoon release opportunity for Bat 41 on Thursday afternoon.

Two minor technical concerns delayed the launch of the window for 19 minutes on Friday evening, but the ULA resolved the issues and the launch team approved to proceed with the terminal countdown as soon as the sun went down on Florida’s Space Beach.

The Atlas 5’s RD-180 main engine disintegrated in minus 2.7 seconds, just minutes after igniting some GEM 63 strap-on boosters. After passing through low clouds, the missile came northeast and rose from sunset to light, illuminating the rocket’s smoke hole in orange.

Three solid fuel boosters burned from the rocket for about two minutes on the plane, clearly visible when the spent motor casing fell on the top of the Atlas 5. After the Atlas 5 reached the upper layers of the atmosphere, the Swiss-made payload dropped the rocket’s justification after a three-minute voyage, revealing the NRO’s assorted loads.

At the time, the work had entered the government-mandated press blackout, highlighting the importance of national security pay. The live broadcast of the ULA was over, and the rest of the work was done in secret. The core of the Atlas 5 was expected to take its aeroget rocket RL10 engine for several tests before using the NRO payload in orbit.

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The NRO released the EDT (0144 GMT) press release at 8:44 pm to confirm the successful outcome of the launch site known as NROL-101.

The Atlas 5 rocket heads northeast from Cape Canaveral on Friday evening. Credit: Stephen Clark / Space Travel Now

“The successful launch of NROL-101 is another example of NRO’s commitment to continuing to develop our core national security systems to support our defense and intelligence partners,” said Col. Chad Davis, Director of the NRO’s Space Launch Office.

“2020 will be a challenging year for the COVID-19 epidemic in the missile and space community,” Davis said in a statement. “I continue to be impressed by the ability of our partners and our NRO team members to find new and innovative ways to collaborate in this environment and to ensure that our work needs are met while prioritizing the safety, security and health of our entire startup team.”

The NRO has not released any information about the pilot flight on the NROL-101 mission, but warning notices issued to the aircraft and navy indicate that the Atlas 5 rocket was heading northeast from Cape Canaveral on the coast before flying near the Canadian Sea. The United States follows a parallel path to the East.

This trajectory indicated that the Atlas 5 would release the NRO payload into high-slope orbit.

The NRO data relay consists of satellites and several spacecraft, designed to intercept communication signals in an elliptical Molniya-type orbit about 25,000 miles (40,000 km) above the Earth. The orbits will tilt 63 degrees to the equator, giving the satellites regular views of Russia and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

According to several independent experts who monitor the operation of the spy satellite, the Atlas 5 launch was aimed at a similar Molniya-type orbit on Friday night.

Ted Molkson, leader of the entertainment community that effectively monitors satellite movements, wrote online Chesapeake-L forum He believes that pay for the NRO-101 mission could be a new spacecraft for the Navy with NRO’s satellite data system.

SDS, or Quasar, satellites provide relay images to researchers from NRO’s sharp-eyed optical and radar surveillance satellites, allowing users to take faster images than spy satellites waiting to fly over a ground station.

SDS satellites fly 22,000 miles (approximately 36,000 km) above the equator in Molniya orbit and geostationary orbit. Molkson says the last two SDS satellites launched into Molniya orbit were launched in 2004 and 2007, which means it’s time to join the alternative navy.

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The NRO launched new signal intelligence satellites into Molniya orbit in 2014 and 2017. “It looks like an alternative or a new generation very soon this year,” Molkson wrote.

Signals are frequently sent from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California into Molniya orbit, while SDS satellites are sent from Cape Canaveral, Molkson said.

“The information gathered by the NRO’s national security agencies is used to provide intelligence to senior policymakers, the intelligence community and the Department of Defense, and U.S. coordinators,” the NRO said in a statement. “In addition, the data collected by NRO organizations will be used to assist emergency and disaster relief efforts in the United States and around the world.”

The NROL-101 mission is the 30th launch of the ULA for the National Reassessment Office.

“Thanks to our mission partners, the NRO and the United States Air Force for our continued trust and partnership with the ULA,” said Gary Vents, Vice President of ULA Government and Business Programs. “This launch is the launch pad of our new GEM63 solid rocket motors, the tool provided by ULA to build the aeronautical experience in preparation for our next generation missile vehicle, the Vulcan Center.”

Three GEM63 strap-on boosters from Northrop Krumman launched the Atlas 5 rocket into the sky. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The new GEM63 motors, which were unveiled at the Atlas 5 launch pad on Friday night, are 66 feet (20 meters) long and 63 inches (1.6 meters) wide. GEM 63 motors can produce a thrust of 373,800 pounds at maximum power.

They are designed to burn for 94 seconds by igniting at a launch pad, using a pre-loaded solid propeller of 97,500 pounds (44.2 metric tons) before falling into the sea.

The GEM63 booster design is an evolution of the 60-inch GEM60 motor built by Northrop Krumman for ULA’s Delta 4 rocket family. The Delta 4s that require the GEM 60 solid rocket booster are not yet available to fly.

Northrop Grooman, through its predecessors ADK and Orbital ADK, provided small strap-on boosters to the now retired Delta 2 and Delta 3 rocket families.

Boosters give extra impetus to rockets that carry high wages into orbit, or tasks that require satellites to be placed in high-altitude orbit. The Atlas 5 rocket can move between zero and five solid fuel boosters depending on the needs of each flight.

Like the AJ-60A motor that flew in the previous Atlas 5s, the GEM63 motor also has fixed nozzles and curved or augmented, nose cone, giving it the perfect aerodynamic shape to ensure it falls cleanly from the Atlas 5 after the booster burns out. . Northrop Krumman’s GEM63 booster produces almost the same thrust and dimensions as the AJ-60A, allowing ULA to introduce a new booster model as a “direct alternative” to the older Aerojet rocket version.

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The Aerojet rocket’s AJ-60A motor has achieved a flawless record since its first use on the third launch pad of the Atlas 5 in July 2003, with 127 boosters flying to date.

For future Atlas 5 launches and the next-generation Vulcan Center rocket, Orbital ADK, now part of the Northrop Krumman, will be provided with solid rocket boosters, at which time the UELA, the GEM63 rocket motor will be chosen by the US government to “significantly reduce costs”.

Developed with the help of advanced robotics and automation, Northrop Krumman boosters are also designed to be easily integrated with the vehicle introduced in the vertical integration feature, the company said.

The longer version of the GEM 63, known as the GEM 63XL, is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2021 on ULA’s new Vulcan Center rocket. The Atlas 5 rocket can fly with any solid rocket boosters from zero to five. The Vulcan Center starts with two Blue Origin PE-4 main engines of the rocket in configurations with two, four or six boosters.

At a test site in Promontory, Utah, engineers performed three test trials of the Northrop Groman GEM 63 boosters before removing the solid fuel rocket motor for the aircraft.

The AJ-60A motors from the Aerojet rocket have not yet been manufactured.

ULA spokeswoman Julie Arnold will fly the boosters of the Aerojet rocket onto future Atlas 5 passengers earlier this year, until the rocket is fully converted into Northrop Croman motors. The AJ-60As will continue to travel with Boeing’s Starliner business team capsule, and ULA is working with NASA toward future use of the GEM63 in astronaut launches.

Arnold said ULA plans to use the new GEM63 for all Atlas 5 launches after 2021.

The ULA’s next objective is to launch another classified NRO spy satellite, the Pelo, from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 4-heavy rocket. That mission, dubbed NROL-44, was due to depart in August, but a series of launch issues have kept Delta 4-heavy on the ground.

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Cary Douglas

About the Author: Cary Douglas

Wayne Ma is a reporter who covers everything from oil trading to China's biggest conglomerates and technology companies. Originally from Chicago, he is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program.

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