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Posted: November 2, 2005Lockheed Martin technicians are replacing one of the solid-fuel boosters attached to the Atlas 5 rocket that will launch NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto because of damage the motor sustained during Hurricane Wilma. This file image shows an Atlas 5 solid rocket booster being raised into the Vertical Integration Facility. Credit: Lockheed MartinThe Atlas 5 is being assembled inside the 30-story Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 in advance of the targeted January 11 liftoff that will send the five-ton New Horizons probe on its decade-long cosmic cruise to encounter the unexplored planet Pluto.Although the center of Wilma remained well south of the Cape, the large storm delivered heavy rain and hurricane-force winds to the Space Coast on October 24 as it sliced across Florida. A third of the 41-by-275-foot reinforced fabric "MegaDoor" on the assembly building's opening that faces the launch pad tore in the storm, causing some debris to fall inside the facility.The Atlas 5's bronze first stage and Centaur upper stage were erected atop a mobile launch platform, and the first of five strap-on solid rocket boosters was attached to the first stage when Wilma blew through. Atlas 5 rockets are put together within the VIF, then moved to the pad in the final 12 hours of the countdown.Post-storm inspections revealed a ding on the solid motor casing, prompting officials to order the booster's removal and replacement. The motor could have been safe to fly, engineers believed, but officials ruled that exchanging it would be quicker than the time required to analyze the damage and re-certify the booster. The Atlas 5 rocket to launch New Horizons will appear similar to the vehicle pictured in this image. It will feature a large nose cone, as depicted here, and strap-on solid motors. Photo: Lockheed MartinThe launch campaign resumed this week following the Wilma cleanup and vehicle assessments. A second booster was added to the Atlas 5 on Tuesday, and the remaining three boosters earmarked for the mission will be installed through next week.The damaged motor was detached Wednesday. Its replacement is expected to arrive in early December. The slender white boosters are 67 feet long. They are ignited at liftoff to provide a powerful kick in combination with the rocket's RD-180 kerosene-fueled main engine. This launch will mark the first time an Atlas 5 has flown with five strap-on boosters; earlier flights have featured pairs, and one mission used three.Exactly what caused the damage or even what punctured the MegaDoor remains unclear, officials say, since the event wasn't witnessed.A re-planning of the pre-launch schedule is being conducted to recover from the unanticipated booster replacement.The original plans allowed time off during the Thanksgiving and year-end holiday seasons. But New Horizons must depart Earth within a narrow launch window dictated by alignment of the planets, making it appear inevitable that some holiday time will have to be spent readying for the launch. New Horizons could reach Pluto as early as 2015, depending on the exact launch date. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research InstituteThe overall launch opportunity extends from January 11 to February 14. However, the first 23 days of the window are most desirable because a launch during that period enables the spacecraft to swing past Jupiter for a gravity sling-shot that speeds the travel to Pluto. The final 12 days of the window would miss Jupiter, significantly delaying the Pluto arrival.Lockheed Martin is looking at a temporary repair to the torn MegaDoor, while hoping tropical weather systems stay clear of the Cape during the waning month of hurricane season. A long-term fix to the door is being studied.Telescopes.comLargest selection and the best prices anywhere in the world. Free shipping on select items. is the largest dealer of both Meade and Celestron Telescopes. Visit or call toll free 1-800-303-5873.STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.Ares 1-X PatchThe official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.Expedition 21The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.Hubble PatchThe official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle's last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.First AEHF satellite readied for launchThis collection of photographs shows the inaugural Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite -- AHEF 1 -- being encapsulated within the Atlas 5 rocket's nose cone at the Astrotech processing cleanroom near Titusville and then delivered to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 for mating atop the launch vehicle. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Kevin O'Connell Photo credit: Lockheed Martin/Jim Dowdall Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Kevin O'Connell Photo credit: Lockheed Martin/Jim Dowdall Photo credit: Lockheed Martin/Jim Dowdall Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Kevin O'Connell Photo credit: Lockheed Martin/Jim Dowdall Photo credit: Lockheed Martin/Jim Dowdall Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Tony Gray Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Tony Gray Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Tony Gray Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Tony Gray Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Tony Gray Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Tony Gray | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Get to know Juno's launcher:The Atlas 5 rocket SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: August 2, 2011 This rocket's family name has been launching robotic explorers throughout the solar system for nearly 50 years, revolutionizing mankind's knowledge about the planets and our place in the Universe.From a Cape Canaveral launch pad Friday, the start of NASA's next planetary adventure begins with another Atlas rocket hurling a sophisticated probe away from Earth. The Atlas 5 rocket launches New Horizons. The Juno launch will use the same 551 configuration. Credit: Pat Corkery/Lockheed MartinLiftoff of the Juno spacecraft on its five-year journey to Jupiter is scheduled for 11:34 a.m. EDT (1534 GMT) aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5.Towering 197 feet tall and generating two-and-a-half-million pounds of chest-thumping thrust, the vehicle will place the 7,995-pound satellite on its circuitous route to the king of planets.Atlas-Centaur rockets have been used since the 1960s to dispatch ground-breaking missions for NASA, including the Surveyors to the Moon, Mariner flights to Mars, Venus and Mercury, and the Pioneers that were the first to visit Jupiter and beyond.In its newest generation, the Atlas 5 rocket sent the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to the red planet in 2005, propelled the New Horizons probe toward Pluto and the solar system's outer fringes in 2006 and the doubled up with the dual Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS impactor to the Moon in 2009.With all that history as a backdrop, the newest robotic expedition to Jupiter is counting on the Atlas for a flawless departure from Earth on Friday.Atlas 5 represents the culmination of evolution stretching back several decades to America's first intercontinental ballistic missile. At the dawn of the space age, boosters named Atlas launched men into orbit during Project Mercury and became a frequent vehicle of choice to haul civil, military and commercial spacecraft to orbit.The rocket launching Juno was born of the Air Force's competition to develop next-generation Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles. It has flown 26 times since debuting in 2002, carrying out nine commercial flights with communications spacecraft, eight dedicated to the Defense Department, five missions with spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office and four for NASA.Atlas 5 was built to be more robust and reliable over earlier Atlas and Titan heavy-lift vehicles, and streamlined production has resulted in fewer opportunities for human error.The new launcher builds upon the success of its predecessors, using the Russian-made RD-180 main engine, a stretched Centaur upper stage and its RL-10 engine that were proven during the Atlas 3 program.The key piece that set Atlas 5 apart, however, was the rigid body Common Core Booster serving as the rocket's first stage. The CCB replaced the "balloon" pressure-stabilized stage used by previous Atlas vehicles.As the CCB's name suggests, the stage is common and is used in all the various configurations of the Atlas 5 family. The booster stage is 106.6 feet long and 12.5 feet diameter.There are three distinct versions of Atlas 5 rockets -- the 400 series, 500 series and Heavy -- each tailored to launching a certain class of satellite.The 400 series uses a four-meter diameter payload shroud and has flown 19 times. The 500 series, distinguished by a five-meter fairing, has launched 7 times. The proposed Heavy is a future Atlas 5 version that would take three Common Core Boosters to form a powerful triple-body rocket.To match an Atlas 5 with the size of its payload, up to five solid rocket motors can be strapped to the rocket to give extra boost at liftoff and the two different types of nose cones are available to enclose the satellite atop the launcher. The various options give Atlas 5 the nickname "dial-a-rocket" because of its flexibility. An artist's concept of the Atlas 5 rocket with Juno. Credit: United Launch AllianceJuno will fly on the 551 configuration, the most powerful version of the Atlas 5 currently available. This translates to a rocket with the bulbous five-meter fairing, five solid rocket boosters and one RL-10 engine on the Centaur upper stage.The energetic version has been used only once in the previous 26 flights by the vehicle, launching the Pluto-bound probe .Russian liftPowering the Atlas 5 during the first four minutes of flight is the RD-180 liquid-fueled engine. The liquid oxygen/kerosene powerplant is a two-thrust chamber, two-nozzle engine made by NPO Energomash of Khimky, Russia. It was developed from the RD-170 engine used by Russia's Energia-Buran space shuttle, the Energia-M and Ukrainian Zenit rockets.Featuring hypergolic ignition, the engine produces 860,000 pounds of thrust and is throttled up and down to ease the stresses the rocket experiences throughout the launch. And its dual nozzles provides superior steering control during the climb out.The American propulsion firm Pratt & Whitney financed the development of the RD-180 for the Atlas program. Pratt and NPO Energomash are equal partners of RD AMROSS, the joint venture formed to market, sell and distribute the RD-180 engines.Solid motors give Atlas 5 a boostGiving the rocket an added kick off the launch pad are five solid-propellant boosters made by Aerojet. Considered the world's longest monolithic -- or single-segment -- solid boosters, the motors provide the extra thrust needed to increase the Atlas 5's payload-carrying capacity.Each booster stands 67 feet tall, has a diameter of just over five feet and weighs 102,000 pounds at launch. The slender white rockets have a lightweight graphite epoxy casing with an erosion-resistant insulation. The solid fuel is high-performance class 1.3 HTPB propellant.Atop the booster is an aerodynamically-shaped graphite epoxy nose fairing. Each motor has forward and aft attachment structures to the Atlas 5's first stage. The motor nozzle is carbon-phenolic.The motor burns for 90 seconds, producing a maximum thrust of approximately 400,000 pounds and an average of 280,000 pounds.The Russian RD-180 first stage main engine can accomplish the entire job of steering the Atlas 5 during launch, thus the solid boosters feature simple, fixed nozzles.Big fairing makes 500-seriesRUAG Space of Zurich, Switzerland produces the five-meter diameter nose cone that covers the satellite cargo during the first minutes of launch as the rocket accelerates through the atmosphere. The Atlas 5 shrouds are the largest lightweight composite payload fairings ever built.For Atlas 5's 500-series, the fairings are about 17 feet in diameter. A "short" version, which will be used for Juno, is 68 feet long and weighs 7,800 pounds.A layer of cork is applied to the outer surface of the fairing to shield against the heating of ascent. An electrically conductive white paint is then applied over the cork to avoid electrical charges. The inside has an acoustic protection system to lessen the intense sound during launch for the payload.To give the fairing structural support against lateral loads during the ascent, the "Centaur Forward Load Reactor" deck was designed. This aluminum ring extends from the Centaur to the fairing's inner wall. It separates in two halves moments after the fairing is jettisoned during launch.Centaur upper stageThe workhorse Centaur upper stage has been flown in various configurations for decades. For Juno's launch, the stage will use one Pratt & Whitney-built RL-10A-4-2 liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engine that develops a thrust of about 22,300 pounds.The Centaur will fire twice during ascent, initially boosting itself and attached satellite into a parking orbit around Earth after separation from the first stage. A second burn then propels the payload out of Earth orbit to begin Juno's trek toward Jupiter.The stage is 41.5 feet in length and 10 feet it diameter. It also houses the navigation unit that serves as the rocket's guidance brain.John Glenn Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The historic first orbital flight by an American is marked by this commemorative patch for John Glenn and Friendship 7.Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is available in our store. Get this piece of history!Celebrate the shuttle programFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This special commemorative patch marks the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.Fallen Heroes Patch CollectionThe official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Get to know MUOS' launcher:The Atlas 5 rocket SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: August 2, 2011 for Juno launch;Updated on Feb. 14 for MUOS 1 launch Various versions of the Atlas rocket launched earlier constellations of U.S. Navy communications satellites, and now the family's biggest booster will begin deploying a new generation of spacecraft this week.Scheduled for rollout to the Cape Canaveral launch pad Wednesday morning in preparation for blastoff Thursday evening, the first Mobile User Objective System satellite, dubbed MUOS 1, will be hauled into orbit for a 15-year mission to provide communications to U.S. and allied military forces on the move. An Atlas 5-551 launches Juno. Credit: NASALiftoff is scheduled for 5:46 p.m. EST (2246 GMT) aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 from the Florida spaceport's Complex 41.Towering 206 feet tall and generating two-and-a-half-million pounds of thrust at launch, the rocket will place the 15,000-pound satellite into its preliminary geosynchronous transfer orbit three hours into flight.You can follow Thursday's launch in our with live journal updates and streaming video.Atlas-Centaur rockets have been used since the 1960s to dispatch ground-breaking missions for NASA, including the Surveyors to the Moon, Mariner flights to Mars, Venus and Mercury, and the Pioneers that were the first to visit Jupiter and beyond.In its newest era, the Atlas 5 rocket sent the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to the red planet in 2005, propelled the New Horizons probe toward Pluto and the solar system's outer fringes in 2006, doubled up with the dual Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS impactor to the Moon in 2009, hurled Juno to Jupiter last August and dispatched the car-sized Curiosity rover on the Mars Science Lab mission in November.For the U.S. Navy, Atlas has been the launcher of choice for 11 spacecraft in the Ultra High Frequency Follow-On communications satellite series from 1993 through 2003. A combination of Atlas 1, Atlas 2, Atlas 2A and Atlas 3B vehicles were used on the those missions from Complex 36 as the family evolved into larger, more capable rockets.And before that, the previous satellite generation called the Navy's Fleet Satellite Communications System, FLTSATCOM, flew aboard Atlas-Centaur vehicles from the Cape to log a half-dozen successes between 1978 and 1989.Now, the sophisticated MUOS satellite network of five spacecraft that harnesses commercial 3G cellular telephone technology to serve mobile warfighters will ride Atlas 5s to orbit starting Thursday night.Meet the Atlas 5Atlas 5 represents the culmination of evolution stretching back several decades to America's first intercontinental ballistic missile. At the dawn of the space age, boosters named Atlas launched men into orbit during Project Mercury and became a frequent vehicle of choice to haul civil, military and commercial spacecraft to orbit. An Atlas 5-551 vehicle. Credit: NASAThe rocket launching MUOS 1 was born of the Air Force's competition to develop next-generation Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles. It has flown 28 times since debuting in 2002, carrying out nine commercial flights with communications spacecraft, eight dedicated to the Defense Department, five missions with spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office and six for NASA.Atlas 5 was built to be more robust and reliable over earlier Atlas and Titan heavy-lift vehicles, and streamlined production has resulted in fewer opportunities for human error.The new launcher builds upon the success of its predecessors, using the Russian-made RD-180 main engine, a stretched Centaur upper stage and its RL10 engine that were proven during the Atlas 3 program.The key piece that sets Atlas 5 apart, however, was the rigid body Common Core Booster serving as the rocket's first stage. The CCB replaced the "balloon" pressure-stabilized stage used by previous Atlas vehicles.As the CCB's name suggests, the stage is common and is used in all the various configurations of the Atlas 5 family. The booster stage is 106.6 feet long and 12.5 feet diameter.There are three distinct versions of Atlas 5 rockets -- the 400 series, 500 series and Heavy -- each tailored to launching a certain class of satellite.The 400 series uses a four-meter diameter payload shroud and has flown 19 times. The 500 series, distinguished by a five-meter fairing, has launched 9 times. The proposed Heavy is a future Atlas 5 version that would take three Common Core Boosters to form a powerful triple-body rocket.To match an Atlas 5 with the size of its payload, up to five solid rocket motors can be strapped to the rocket to give extra boost at liftoff and the two different types of nose cones are available to enclose the satellite atop the launcher. The various options give Atlas 5 the nickname "dial-a-rocket" because of its flexibility. An artist's concept of the Atlas 5 rocket with MUOS 1. Credit: United Launch AllianceMUOS will fly on the 551 configuration, the most powerful version of the Atlas 5 currently available. This translates to a rocket with the bulbous five-meter fairing, five solid rocket boosters and one RL-10 engine on the Centaur upper stage.The energetic version has been used twice before, launching NASA's New Horizons probe to Pluto and the Jupiter-bound Juno orbiter .Russian liftPowering the Atlas 5 during the first four minutes of flight is the RD-180 liquid-fueled engine. The liquid oxygen/kerosene powerplant is a two-thrust chamber, two-nozzle engine made by NPO Energomash of Khimky, Russia. It was developed from the RD-170 engine used by Russia's Energia-Buran space shuttle, the Energia-M and Ukrainian Zenit rockets. An Atlas 5 first stage. Credit: NASAFeaturing hypergolic ignition, the engine produces 860,000 pounds of thrust and is throttled up and down to ease the stresses the rocket experiences throughout the launch. And its dual nozzles provides superior steering control during the climb out.The American propulsion firm Pratt & Whitney financed the development of the RD-180 for the Atlas program. Pratt and NPO Energomash are equal partners of RD AMROSS, the joint venture formed to market, sell and distribute the RD-180 engines.Solid motors give Atlas 5 a boostGiving the rocket an added kick off the launch pad are five solid-propellant boosters made by Aerojet. Considered the world's longest monolithic -- or single-segment -- solid boosters, the motors provide the extra thrust needed to increase the Atlas 5's payload-carrying capacity. An Atlas 5 solid rocket booster. Credit: NASAEach booster stands 67 feet tall, has a diameter of just over five feet and weighs 102,000 pounds at launch. The slender white rockets have a lightweight graphite epoxy casing with an erosion-resistant insulation. The solid fuel is high-performance class 1.3 HTPB propellant.Atop the booster is an aerodynamically-shaped graphite epoxy nose fairing. Each motor has forward and aft attachment structures to the Atlas 5's first stage. The motor nozzle is carbon-phenolic.The motor burns for 90 seconds, producing a maximum thrust of approximately 400,000 pounds and an average of 280,000 pounds.The Russian RD-180 first stage main engine can accomplish the entire job of steering the Atlas 5 during launch, thus the solid boosters feature simple, fixed nozzles.Big fairing makes 500-seriesRUAG Space of Zurich, Switzerland produces the five-meter diameter nose cone that covers the satellite cargo during the first minutes of launch as the rocket accelerates through the atmosphere. The Atlas 5 shrouds are the largest lightweight composite payload fairings ever built. An Atlas 5 fairing. Credit: NASAFor Atlas 5's 500-series, the fairings are about 17 feet in diameter. A "medium" version, which will be used for MUOS, is 77 feet long and weighs 8,800 pounds.A layer of cork is applied to the outer surface of the fairing to shield against the heating of ascent. An electrically conductive white paint is then applied over the cork to avoid electrical charges. The inside has an acoustic protection system to lessen the intense sound during launch for the payload.To give the fairing structural support against lateral loads during the ascent, the "Centaur Forward Load Reactor" deck was designed. This aluminum ring extends from the Centaur to the fairing's inner wall. It separates in two halves moments after the fairing is jettisoned during launch.Centaur upper stageThe workhorse Centaur upper stage has flown in various configurations for decades and will be making its 200th mission with MUOS 1. For this launch, the stage will use one Pratt & Whitney-built RL10A-4-2 liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engine that develops a thrust of about 22,300 pounds. A Centaur upper stage. Credit: NASAThe Centaur will fire three times during ascent, initially boosting itself and attached satellite into a parking orbit around Earth after separation from the first stage. A second burn then propels the payload into a highly elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit, followed by a long coast phase before a final push is delivered to raise the orbit's low point and reduce inclination relative to the equator.The stage is 41.5 feet in length and 10 feet it diameter. It also houses the navigation unit that serves as the rocket's guidance brain.The launch of MUOS 1 will mark the milestone 200th mission for the Centaur dating back to 1962. See our about the stage's history and upcoming landmark launch.Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Ares 1-X PatchThe official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.Project OrionThe Orion crew exploration vehicle is NASA's first new human spacecraft developed since the space shuttle a quarter-century earlier. The capsule is one of the key elements of returning astronauts to the Moon.Fallen Heroes Patch CollectionThe official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Government spy satellite rockets into space on Atlas 5 SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: December 6, 2013 A classified U.S. spy payload rocketed into orbit from California on an Atlas 5 launcher Thursday, joining the nation's eyes and ears in the sky to supply intelligence to the government's national security agencies. The Atlas 5 rocket launched at 11:14:30 p.m. PST Thursday (0714:30 GMT; 2:14:30 a.m. EST Friday). Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch AllianceThe satellite is owned by the National Reconnaissance Office, but government officials do not disclose the identities of the NRO's spacecraft, only saying the payload will serve national security purposes.But independent satellite-watchers believe the spacecraft will join the NRO's fleet of spacecraft with radars to penetrate cloaks of clouds and darkness and reveal what adversaries are doing regardless of weather or time of day.The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 11:14:30 p.m. PST Thursday (0714:30 GMT; 2:14:30 a.m. EST Friday), majestically rising into clear skies on a chilly night at the spaceport on California's rugged Central Coast.The launcher's RD-180 main engine guided the rocket through the speed of sound and into the stratosphere in just a few minutes before the Atlas 5 shed its nose cone once it flew beyond the dense lower layers of the atmosphere.At that moment, the progress of the launch was kept secret under the orders of the NRO.Officials declared the launch a success several hours later, giving the Atlas 5 rocket a flawless record for the year with eight missions for NASA, the Defense Department and the NRO.The Atlas 5 rocket flew in the "501" configuration with a five-meter payload fairing, no solid rocket boosters and a Centaur upper stage with a single RL10 engine. Its nose cone is the medium-length version of the Swiss-built payload fairing, giving the rocket a total height of 206 feet.The workhorse Atlas 5 launcher comes in different shapes and sizes, and ULA is able to adjust its capability based on the needs of each specific mission.The exact version flown Thursday night from California has only launched once before.In September 2010, a "501" variant of the Atlas 5 rocket with a medium-length fairing launched another classified satellite from Vandenberg for the NRO, which does not publicly release the orbits of its constellation of spacecraft.But hobbyists have honed their ability to track satellites in orbit, watching them go overhead based on known launch trajectories and previous experience. With several observations, the hobbyists can estimate a satellite's orbital altitude and inclination, or the angle of the craft's ground track with the equator.Thursday night's mission, officially dubbed NROL-39, launched on the same type of rocket and on a trajectory mirroring the September 2010 flight, which put its payload in an orbit nearly 700 miles up in a unique retrograde orbit traveling in the opposite direction of Earth's rotation.Analysts concluded the September 2010 launch put up the first spacecraft in a new-generation fleet of NRO radar imaging satellites. A Delta 4 rocket launched in April 2012 into a nearly identical orbit, adding a second satellite to the system.According to top secret budget documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published by the Washington Post in August, the radar spy satellites are given the codename "Topaz" and replace a previous generation of radar-equipped "Onyx" spacecraft.The budget document indicated five Topaz satellites are planned before transitioning to a "Block 2" line with upgrades. If the interpretation is correct, two more Topaz satellites remain to be launched before the NRO moves to a follow-on system.Ted Molczan, an experienced amateur satellite watcher in Canada, believes Thursday's launch lofted the third radar satellite in the Topaz series."Am I convinced? I would say I am 80 percent confident NROL-39 is Topaz," said Jonathan McDowell, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks global satellite and launch activity.It is "always possible there is a one-off vehicle in a somewhat similar orbit. Let's see the amateurs pick it up and get its orbit, then we'll make a final conclusion," McDowell said before Thursday's launch.The Topaz satellites are leftovers from the NRO's troubled Future Imagery Architecture program, which was scaled back after billions of dollars in cost overruns leading to the cancellation of advanced optical spy satellites.The radar component of FIA, now known as Topaz, remained in place with Boeing as prime contractor.After release of the Atlas 5's prime passenger, the Centaur upper stage deployed 12 CubeSat secondary payloads built by the military, NASA and university students."We are pleased we could support the NRO, NASA, and all of the associated institutions by successfully delivering these important auxiliary payloads which will test and validate new technologies for debris mitigation, propulsion, space weather, communications, on-orbit data processing and the use of commercially available components," Sponnick said.Sponsored by the NRO and NASA, the CubeSats each weigh less than 10 pounds, and some are as small as a hand. They include:AeroCube 5, a mission for the Aerospace Corp. to demonstrate new technologies for pointing and tracking between two CubeSats. AeroCube 5 will also record launch environment data such as pressure, temperature and vibration, as well as demonstrate a de-orbit device.ALICE, developed by the Air Force Institute of Technology, will test the performance of an advanced carbon nanotube array, which has great potential for smaller, lighter, and more energy-efficient satellite propulsion.Four satellites for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command -- SNaP, TacSat 6 and two SMDC-ONE -- will test advanced nanosatellite communications technologies.CUNYSAT 1, developed by Medgar Evans College at the City University of New York, serves as an educational tool for students and will observe Earth's ionosphere.IPEX, or the Intelligent Payload Experiment, was provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Cal Poly. Carrying several low-resolution cameras, IPEX will validate several technologies for future NASA Earth observation missions, including autonomous on-board data processing, direct downlink operations, and automated ground operations.MCubed 2, developed by the University of Michigan, will demonstrate an advanced real-time high-data-rate instrument processing system for next-generation remote sensing missions. MCubed 2 is a reflight of a previous CubeSat which unintentionally became attached to another CubeSat, preventing it from transmitting data.FIREBIRD 1A and 1B, built by Montana State University's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory, will study microbursts in the outer Van Allen radiation belt. The two CubeSats were funded by the National Science Foundation.The next flight for United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled for Jan. 23 from Florida with NASA's next Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: .STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch. --> | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.GPS satellite fitted to Atlas 5 rocket for upcoming launch SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: May 6, 2013;Updated with slight change to launch window An Atlas rocket and a Global Positioning System satellite were joined together for the first time in 28 years Monday, as the pairing of booster and payload were united for their May 15 launch from Cape Canaveral. File image of satellite being lifted aboard Atlas 5. Credit: ULAAlready shrouded in the launcher's 39-foot-tall, 14-foot-diameter aluminum nose cone, the spacecraft was hauled to the Atlas assembly building and hoisted atop the Centaur upper stage by United Launch Alliance workers.The fully assembled rocket, standing 189 feet tall for launch, will be wheeled out to the Complex 41 pad aboard a mobile platform on May 14.The storied history of GPS to provide precision navigation through a space-based constellation of satellites dates back to the 1970s, and Atlas rockets gave the earliest craft their lift into orbit to prove the novel concept would work.Atlas boosters conducted 11 launches of the Block 1 series from February 1978 through October 1985 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.The operational GPS satellites that created a worldwide phenomenon and today is used by millions of civilans across the globe relied on the Delta family of rockets for their rides into space beginning in February 1989.But Atlas is getting back into the game with the upcoming launch of GPS 2F-4, a modernized satellite made by Boeing that features improved accuracy, enhanced internal atomic clocks, better anti-jam resistance and a civil signal for commercial aviation.The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket flying in its frequently used 401 configuration, a two-stage vehicle with no strap-on solids and a standard four-meter-wide nose cone, will be used to propel the 3,400-pound payload directly into the GPS network 11,047 nautical miles up.This is the 45th Launch Support Squadron crew patch for the GPS 2F-4 mission, which is Boeing's Space Vehicle (SV) #5. Each SV is a named for a navigation star and its constellation. SV-5 is named Vega, with constellation Lyra. On the patch, they are the large star and constellation in the background of space. The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is shown lifting the satellite from the Eastern Launch Site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Squadron mascot is a gator, and a lyra is a Greek harp. SSgt Thomas Hogan drew a "Toga-Gator" and Lt Ken Stuart did the patch design.The launch window on May 15 opens at 5:38 p.m. EDT and extends 18 minutes to 5:56 p.m. EDT (2138-2156 GMT).That timing and the rocket's northeasterly trajectory will put the satellite on course to enter the C-plane of the constellation where this spacecraft will replace an aging GPS bird deployed in 1996.Having long surpassed its seven-year design life, the GPS 2A-25 satellite was launched by a Delta 2 rocket on March 27, 1996 and entered service on April 9. But it will relinquish the Plane C, Slot 2 position in the constellation when the new GPS 2F-4 is checked out and ready to become operational later this summer."The primary purpose of launching the new Block 2F satellites is to field increased GPS signal capabilities, more accurate clocks and to reduce overall constellation risk," according to a GPS Directorate spokesperson.The GPS 2A-25 satellite will slide into a backup role within the C-plane for the remainder of its useful life before retirement, Air Force officials said.The constellation is comprised of six orbital groupings, or planes, that circle the planet at a tilt of 55 degrees inclination relative to the equator, allowing their paths to cover most of the populated globe.Originally a tool for military troops, aircraft, vehicles, ships and munitions, the GPS utility was opened to civil access and created a global marketplace for transportation, banking, commerce and the quality of life.The Air Force continues its lead role to maintain and operate the system, developing improved satellites and launching them to keep the network fully functional.There are 30 operational satellites today, including 8 GPS 2A, 12 GPS 2R, 7 GPS 2R-M and three GPS 2F.Boeing is building 12 of this current GPS satellite generation, with eight more to deploy starting with 2F-5 this October and 2F-6 next May, both using Delta 4 boosters.The Atlas 5 and the Delta 4 rockets -- the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles -- are designed to carry all of the Air Force's satellite fleets. STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.History of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite SystemBY STEPHEN CLARK AND JUSTIN RAYSPACEFLIGHT NOW