Clandestine Zuma SpySat’s SpaceX Liftoff Postponed Indefinitely to Resolve Payload Fairing Issue

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff of clandestine Zuma spysat to low earth orbit for a classified US government customer is postponed indefinitely from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, from last targeted launch date of 17 Nov 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Liftoff of the clandestine spy satellite codenamed ‘Zuma’ on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has been postponed indefinitely to resolve a lingering issue with the testing of a payload fairing for another customer.

SpaceX announced today, Friday, Nov 17, that they will ‘stand down’ to allow engineers the additional time needed to carefully scrutinize all the pertinent data before proceeding with the top secret Zuma launch.

“We have decided to stand down and take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer,” said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

The super secret ‘Zuma’ spysat is a complete mystery and it has not been claimed by any U.S. government entity – not even the elusive NRO spy agency ! The NRO does claim ownership of a vast fleet of covert and hugely capable orbiting surveillance assets supporting US national security.

Zuma’s goals are veiled in virtually complete darkness. And as far as the taxpaying public is concerned its ownerless.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. EST Nov 15, the Zuma launch from the Florida Space Coast had already been postponed twice this week before today’s decision to called it off indefinitely.

Covert Zuma spysat is encapsulated inside the nose cose at the top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in this up-close view from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, taken on Nov. 17, 2017. An unresolved issue with the nose cone caused indefinite launch postponement. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The initial 24 hour delay to Thursday was to deal with unspecified ‘mission assurance’ issues.

The second days delay to Friday was pinned more specifically on the payload fairing or nose cone.

SpaceX has also had to deal with an engine testing problem that caused a fire on a test stand while preparing to hot fire a Block 5 Merlin 1D engine at their Texas facility on Nov. 4. It is not known if this was part of the ‘mission assurance’ issues.

No new targeted launch date has been announced.

“Though we have preserved the range opportunity for tomorrow, we will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date,” Taylor stated.

SpaceX had been planning an ambitious launch campaign of 4 or more launches by the end of this year – including the maiden launch of the triple barreled Falcon Heavy. That seems very unlikely now.

Just exactly what the fairing problem is has not been disclosed. Its also not known if the two delays are related or not.

The fairing is jettisoned three minutes after liftoff. Any failure to deploy would result in a total loss of the mission.

The first stage landing legs attached to the side of the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster are seen up close on Nov, 17, 2017 as the rocket awaits blastoff with the unclaimed Zuma surveillance satellite from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Zuma was to roar off seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a lengthy two hour launch window that extended from 8 to 10 p.m. each targeted day this week.

The Eastern range had been reserved by SpaceX for a potential Saturday launch opportunity as well.

However all mention of the Zuma launch has now been deleted from the website of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, FL.

Up close view of the nose cone encapsulating the covert Zuma payload atop SpaceX Falcon 9 at KSC pad 39A. Credit: Julian Leek

Forecast weather conditions in central Florida were near perfect over the past few days and spectators would have witnessed a dazzling sky show as the two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 soared to orbit.

One of the few tidbits we can confirm is that the launch contract was arranged as a commercial enterprise under the auspices of Northrop Grumman Corporation – as a means to significantly slash launch costs for whatever U.S government entity is responsible for Zuma.

That goal is completely in line with SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s entire company-wide goal in developing the Falcon and Dragon family of rockets and spaceships.

“The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission,” Lon Rains, Northrop Grumman Director of Communications, told Universe Today.

“We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX.”

But the launch was only publicly announced 1 month ago in mid October and it suddenly appeared on the SpaceX launch manifest after an FAA launch license was granted.

We don’t know anything about the ‘Zuma’ payloads characteristics and vital statistics – despite the seemingly endless leaks streaming out of Washington these days.

“The Zuma payload is a restricted payload,” Rains told me.

“Northrop Grumman is proud to be a part of the Zuma launch,” Rains added. “This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions.”

The only clue to its goals to be revealed is the intended orbit.

“It will be launched into Low Earth Orbit,” Rains informed me.

Low Earth Orbit extends to roughly 1200 miles altitude and includes the ISS orbit for example at approx. 250 miles.

“As a company, Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma.”

Base of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being used to launch the covert Zuma payload at KSC pad 39A. Credit: Julian Leek

On Friday evening the rocket was lowered to the horizontal position on the transporter erector on pad 39A. It will be rolled back to the processing hangar outside the perimeter fence for further engineering evaluation.

Whenever the launch is rescheduled SpaceX will attempt to recover the 16 story tall first stage booster with a soft landing on the ground back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. So expect some extremely loud sonic booms to rock the space coast region about eight minutes after liftoff.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX Zuma, KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Covert Zuma spysat is encapsulated inside the nose cose at the top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in this up-close view from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, taken on Nov. 16, 2017. Launch reset to Nov. 17, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect topped with super secret Zuma spysat claimed by no US government entity on Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for liftoff on 16 Nov 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Zuma satellite mission patch. Credit: SpaceX/Northrop Grumman

Clandestine Black Ops NRO Satellite Launches into the Black over Florida Spaceport Skies on ULA Atlas V on 5th Try

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket streaks to orbit in this long duration exposure carrying covert NROL-52 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office after lift off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15, 2017 at 3:28 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A clandestine black ops satellite supporting US national defense launched into the black skies over Florida’s spaceport in the dead of night Sunday, Oct. 15, on a mission for the U.S. governments National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that lit up the night skies offering a spectacular vista on its journey to orbit.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch carrying the covert NROL-52 mission in support of U.S. national security blasted off early Sunday, Oct. 15 at 3:28 a.m. EDT (0728 GMT) from seaside Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Congratulations to the team who helped make #NROL52 a success! United Launch Alliance, 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force Space Command, and the Space and Missile Systems Center,” the NRO announced post launch on social media.

“Thanks. It was our privilege to serve your mission,” tweeted ULA CEO Tory Bruno in reply.

“Today’s launch is a testament to the tireless dedication of the ULA team, demonstrating why ULA continues to serve as our nation’s most dependable and successful launch provider,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Government Satellite Launch, in a statement.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the classified NROL-52 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office in support of national security lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15, 2017 at 3:28 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Atlas V hauling NROL-52 soon arced over eastwards as it accelerate skywards to deliver the covert satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

As the goals of the secret satellite mission were completely clouded from view perhaps it’s somewhat fitting that overhead clouds furtively rolled in as launch time approached and partially obscured our view – which nevertheless was magnificent!

The Atlas V thundered off pad 41 right at the opening of the middle of the night launch window providing absolutely stunning views to spectators ringing the space coast region as it steaked to orbit – darting in and out of the surprisingly thick cloud layer and affording witnesses who wisely woke up a spectacle they won’t forget.

The top secret payload literally launched into the black. Several minutes after liftoff ULA’s live launch webcast coverage entered a communications blackout.

“At the request of our [NRO] customer, we will wrap up our live #AtlasV #NROL52 [coverage],” said ULA.

Liftoff of ULA Atlas V rocket carrying classified NROL-52 payload for the NRO on Oct. 15, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

“Never before has innovation been more important for keeping us ahead of the game. As the eagle soars, so will the advanced capabilities this payload provides to our national security,” said Colonel Matthew Skeen, USAF, Director, NRO Office of Space Launch, in a statement. “Kudos to the entire team for a job well done.”

“It’s always a good day when our nation launches an NRO payload that provides vital information to help keep our nation strong and protect us from enemies who wish to do us harm.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the classified NROL-52 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office in support of national security lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15, 2017 at 3:28 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The fifth time was finally the charm for the oft postponed launch that initially was delayed from late September into early October by the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Florida Space Coast that caused over $100 million in damage to homes, businesses, marinas, parks and more in Brevard county.

The NROL-52 launch attempt was then scrubbed 4 more times due to lingering awful bouts of rains squalls and threating high winds and even a technical glitch with the S-band transmitter on the second stage of the ULA Atlas V rocket.

Fixing the transmitter required that the Atlas rocket be rolled back off the launch pad and into the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at pad 41 to replace the faulty equipment and verify its reliable operation.

“After recovering from Hurricane Irma that came through the area last month, and the last week’s weather challenges, the team found the right opportunity today to deliver this critical national asset to orbit,” Maginnis stated.

The ULA Atlas V launch of NROL-52 for the U.S. governments National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) concluded a launch double header this week on the Florida Space Coast that began with the sunset launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 of the SES-11 commercial satellite on Wednesday, Oct 11. The Falcon 9 first stage soft landed minutes later on an ocean going platform.

The venerable two stage Atlas V stands 194 feet tall and sports a 100% success record. The first stage generates approx. 1.6 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

This Atlas Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission launched in the 421 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter payload fairing (PLF) and two strap on solid rocket first stage boosters.

The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is a joint Department of Defense–Intelligence Community organization responsible for developing, launching, and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of our nation.

The NRO runs a vast fleet of powerful orbital assets hosting a multitude of the most advanced, wide ranging and top secret capabilities.

NROL-52 was launched for the NRO on an intelligence gathering mission in support of US national defense.

The possible roles for the reconnaissance payload include signals intelligence, eavesdropping, imaging and spectroscopic observations, early missile warnings and much more.

This marks the 6th and final Atlas V launch of the year.

The NROL-52 mission marks ULA’s seventh launch of 2017 and 26th for the National Reconnaissance Office.

NROL-52 is the 74th flight of the Atlas V rocket and the seventh in the 421 configuration.

“I want to thank the entire ULA team and our mission partners at the NRO and U.S. Air Force who made this, our 26th NRO launch, successful,” said Maginnis.

Up close view of payload fairing encapsulating NROL-52 spysat for the National Reconnaissance Office atop ULA Atlas V rocket. Liftoff is slated for 4:07 a.m. ET, Oct. 5, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NROL-52 is the fourth of five launches slated for the NRO in 2017 by both ULA and SpaceX.

The next NRO launch is scheduled on a ULA Delta IV in December from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Reflecting in a pond a ULA Atlas V rocket stands poised for launch with the NROL-52 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office prior to blastoff on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite NROL-52, SpaceX SES-11 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ULA Atlas V rocket will deliver the classified NROL-52 spysat to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. Liftoff targeted for 4:07 a.m. ET, Oct. 5, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NROL-52 mission patch depicts an eagle bursting through a red, white and blue shield as a representation of the agency’s resolve to breaking through barriers in pursuit of innovative technologies and capabilities. Credit: NRO
NROL-52 poster. Credit: NRO/ULA

Air Force’s Secret X-37B Space Plane Lands After 718 Days in Orbit

The Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane landed at the Kennedy Space Center’s orbiter runway on Sunday, May 7, after spending a record 718 days in orbit. This was the fourth flight of the uncrewed, autonomous military project, and was the first landing for an X-37B at KSC.

“The landing of OTV-4 marks another success for the X-37B program and the nation,” said Lt. Col. Ron Fehlen, X-37B program manager. “This mission once again set an on-orbit endurance record and marks the vehicle’s first landing in the state of Florida. We are incredibly pleased with the performance of the space vehicle and are excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities. We are extremely proud of the dedication and hard work by the entire team.”

The mini space shuttle launched on May 20, 2015 on its somewhat clandestine mission. The launch was well publicized (and shown live on a webcast) but the landing came unannounced, except for the sonic boom that heralded its arrival, surprising those living around the space coast area.

The Air Force revealed before the launch that it would carry an experimental electric propulsion thruster to be tested in orbit and an investigation called Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS), which exposes sample materials to the space environment and builds on more than ten years of similar research on the International Space Station.

Beyond that, however, what the X-37B did in orbit is not known. The Air Force said in a news release is that mini shuttle is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.” Some experts has said they believe it has intelligence-gathering equipment.

Technicians work on the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4, which landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017. Credit: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

Satellite-tracking enthusiasts were able to monitor the ship’s changing orbital height at various times throughout the mission.

The reusable space plane is designed to be launched like a satellite and land on a runway like an airplane and the NASA space shuttles. The 11,000 pound (4990 kg) OTV space plane was built by Boeing and is about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle. It was originally developed by NASA but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Note: In the above video you’ll see a “big” NASA space shuttle sitting near the runway. It is the mockup of a space shuttle that used to be at the entrance of the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex. It is currently being restored.

All four OTV missions launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and previous missions landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The first OTV mission launched on April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV spent 468 days on orbit, and the third mission was 674 days long.

The Air Force said they are preparing to launch the fifth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, later in 2017.

Sources: Air Force, Spaceflight Now, US Air Force Twitter.

Air Force Missile Warning SBIRS GEO 3 Satellite Set for Spectacular Night Liftoff Jan. 19; 1st 2017 Cape Launch-Watch Live

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 19 , 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A U.S. Air Force satellite that will provide vital early warnings on incoming enemy missiles that are critical to the defense of our homeland is set for a spectacular nighttime blastoff on Thursday Jan. 19 from the Florida Space Coast. Update: Launch reset to Jan 20 at 7:42 pm EST

The Atlas V rocket carrying the $1.2 Billion SBIRS GEO Flight 3 infrared imaging satellite counts as the first launch of 2017 by rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) as well as the years first liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

The ULA Atlas V rocket is set for liftoff on Thursday, Jan. 19 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite will be launched to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

It is the third satellite in this series of infrared surveillance satellites that will provide rapid and accurate warning of attacking enemy strategic missiles via infrared signatures – as well as critical targeting data to US missile defense systems to enable swiftly responding launches that will hopefully destroy the attackers in the battle space arena before impacting US cities, infrastructure and military installations.

USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite under construction by prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The 20 story tall rocket and payload were rolled out vertically this morning some 1800 feet (600 m) from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) processing hangar to pad 41.

With the unpredictable North Korean dictator Kim John Un threatening to launch an upgraded long range intercontinental ballistic missile this year that could potentially strike the United States west coast, SBIRS GEO 3 is more important than ever for our national defense.

The launch window opens at 7:46 p.m. EST (0046 GMT).

The launch window extends for 40 minutes from 7:46-8:26 p.m. EST.

Spectators are flocking into Space Coast area hotels for the super convenient dinnertime blastoff. And they will have a blast ! – if all goes well.

You can watch the Atlas launch live via a ULA webcast. The live launch broadcast will begin about 20 minutes before the planned liftoff at 7:26 p.m. EST here:

http://www.ulalaunch.com/webcast.aspx
www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance and www.ulalaunch.com

The current launch weather forecast for Thursday, Jan. 18, calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time. The primary concern is for cumulus clouds.

The backup launch opportunity is on Friday.

In case of a scrub for any reason, technical or weather, the chances for a favorable launch drop slightly to 70% GO.

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 19 , 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

“SBIRS, considered one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands in four national security mission areas including: missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.”

The first SBIRS satellite was launched in 2011.

SBIRS GEO 3 will launch southeast at an inclination of 23.29 degrees. It separate from the 2nd stage 43 minutes after liftoff.

ULA has enjoyed a 100% success rate for this 69th Atlas V launch stretching back to the company’s founding back in 2006.

ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin with 116 successful launches under its belt.

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 19 , 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 194-foot-tall commercial Atlas V booster launched in the 401 rocket configuration with approximately 860,000 pounds of sea level first stage thrust powered by the dual nozzle Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. There are no thrust augmenting solids attached to the first stage.

The satellite is housed inside a 4-meter diameter large payload fairing (LPF). The Centaur upper stage is powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.

Watch this video showing the detailed mission profile:

Video Caption: An Atlas V 401 configuration rocket will deliver the Air Force’s third Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite to orbit. SBIRS, considered one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands. Credit: ULA

This mission marks the 34th Atlas V mission in the 401 configuration.

The two prior SBIRS GEO missions also launched on the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket.

Up close look at the payload fairing housing SBIRS GEO 3atop ULA Atlas V rocket set for launch from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann

The SBIRS team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system, according to a ULA description.

ULA Atlas V rocket stands erect alongside newly built crew access tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 ahead of Jan. 19, 2017 blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Mission patch for SBIRS GEO Flight 3. Credit: USAF

………….

Learn more about ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jan. 18/20/21: “ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Powerful USAF Satcom Propelled to Orbit by Delta Provides Dinnertime Launch Delight; Photo/Video Launch Gallery

Ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 highest capacity satcom to orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 highest capacity satcom to orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The most powerful US Air Force military communications satellite ever built was propelled to orbit by a ULA Delta IV rocket that provided a dinnertime launch delight Wednesday evening for the crowds of spectators gathered around America’s premier gateway to space.

Check out this expanding gallery of launch photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself- spread throughout the Florida Space Coast region – giving a comprehensive look as the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-8) mission streaked to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:53 p.m. EST on Dec. 7, 2016.

ULA Delta IV rocket and WGS-8 USAF sitcom streak to orbit at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen from Melbourne, FL.   Credit: Julian Leek
ULA Delta IV rocket and WGS-8 USAF sitcom streak to orbit at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen from Melbourne, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket successfully streaked to the heavens through nearly crystal clear skies to deliver WGS-8 to a supersynchronous transfer orbit.

Spectators were rewarded with a picture perfect view of the rocket as it ascended quickly and arced over to the African continent.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-8) mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

WGS-8 is the first in a newly upgraded series of a trio of WGS satellites built by Boeing that will nearly double the communications bandwidth of prior WGS models.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying USAF WGS-8 tactical sitcom.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying USAF WGS-8 tactical sitcom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit:  Julian Leek
Liftoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

Watch this video compilation showing the launch from several different vantage points.

Video Caption: A collage of up-close video cameras ringed around Space launch Complex 37 capture Delta 4 launch of the WGS-8 satellite on 12/7/2016 from Pad 37 of the CCAFS, FL. Credit: Jeff Seibert

ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry. Credit:  Chuck Higgins
ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry. Credit: Chuck Higgins
ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry.  Credit:  Chuck Higgins
ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry. Credit: Chuck Higgins

WGS-8 is the first of three launches from the Cape this December. A Pegasus XL rocket will launch on Dec. 12 carrying NASA’s CGYNSS hurricane monitoring satellites. And an Atlas V will launch on Dec. 18 with the EchoStar 19 comsat.

ULA Delta IV poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
ULA Delta IV poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit:  Ashley Crouch
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit:  Ashley Crouch
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit: Ashley Crouch
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Advanced USAF Tactical Satcom Set for Stunning Dec. 7 Nighttime Blastoff- Watch Live

ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Less than 24 hours from now the evening skies along the Florida Space Coast will light up with a spectacular burst of fire and fury as a Delta rocket roars to space with a super advanced tactical satcom for the U.S. Air Force that will provide a huge increase in communications bandwidth for American forces around the globe.

Blastoff of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-8) mission for the U.S. Air Force is slated for 6:53 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

WGS-8 will be delivered to a supersynchronous transfer orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket. The launch window runs for 49 minutes from 6:53-7:42 p.m. EST.

You can watch the Delta launch live on a ULA webcast. The live launch broadcast will begin at 6:33 p.m. EST here:

http://www.ulalaunch.com/webcast.aspx

The weather forecast for Wednesday Dec. 6, calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time.

In case of a scrub for any reason the chances for a favorable launch drop slightly to 60% GO.

WGS-8 is the first in a newly upgraded series of a trio of WGS satellites built by Boeing.

The major upgrade is inclusion of the Wideband Digital Channelizer, awarded to Boeing in June 2012.

The Wideband Digital Channelizer will provide a 90 percent improvement in satellite bandwidth for US forces.

It is also the only military satellite communications system that can support simultaneous X and Ka band communications.

WGS-8 can instantaneously filter and downlink up to 8.088 GHz of bandwidth compared to 4.410 GHz for the earlier Block I and II satellite series.

The prior Wideband Global SATCOM-7 (WGS-7) communications satellite was launched on July 23, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-37.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Wideband Global SATCOM system provides “anytime, anywhere communication” for allied military forces “through broadcast, multicast and point to point connections,” according to ULA.

The $426 million WGS 8 satellite is part of a significant upgraded constellation of high capacity communications satellites providing enhanced communications capabilities to American and allied troops in the field for the coming two decades.

“WGS provides essential communications services, allowing Combatant Commanders to exert command and control of their tactical forces, from peace time to military operations.”

WGS-8 is the eighth in a series of high capacity communication satellites that will broaden tactical communications for U.S. and allied forces at both a significantly higher capacity and lower cost.

“WGS satellites are important elements of a high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to America’s troops in the field for the next decade and beyond,” according to a ULA factsheet.

“WGS enables more robust and flexible execution of Command and Control, Communications Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), as well as battle management and combat support information functions. The WGS constellation augments the existing service available through the UHF Follow-on satellite by providing enhanced information broadcast capabilities.”

The 217 foot tall Delta IV Medium+ rocket will launch in the 5,4 configuration with a 5 meter diameter payload fairing and 4 solid rocket boosters to augment the first stage.

The is the sixth flight in the Medium+ (5,4) configuration; all of which were for prior WGS missions.

WGS-8 logo
WGS-8 logo

WGS-8 also counts as the first of three launches from the Cape this December. A Pegasus XL rocket will launch on Dec. 12 carrying NASA’s CGYNSS hurricane monitoring satellites. And an Atlas V will launch on Dec. 12 with the EchoStar 23 comsat.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Top Secret NRO SpySat Set for Brilliant Breakfast Blastoff July 28 – Watch Live

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — The nation’s newest surveillance satellite is all set for a brilliant breakfast blastoff on Thursday July 28 atop a powerful Atlas V rocket from the Florida Space Coast – and both the booster and weather are in excellent shape at this time!

The goal is carry the top secret NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to an undisclosed orbit which in support of US national defense and vital to US national security.

The NROL-61 mission is set to lift off on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on Thursday morning July 28 from Space Launch Comple-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

In an uncommon move, ULA and the military have announced the launch time is 8:37 a.m. EDT.

Virtually everything about the clandestine payload, its mission, purpose and goals are classified top secret.

The NRO is the government agency that runs a vast fleet of powerful orbital assets hosting a multitude of the most advanced, wide ranging and top secret capabilities.

The most recent NRO payload, known as NROL 37, was just launched by ULA last month on their Delta IV Heavy – the most powerful rocket in the world on June 11 – read my story here.

The excitement is building with the launch just a day away and visitors are checking into local area hotels hoping for a magnificent show from the venerable Atlas rocket with a perfect record of launch performance.

ULA managers completed the Launch Readiness Review and everything “is on track for launch.”

So you can now plan your day and watch Thursday’s launch live via a ULA broadcast which starts 20 minutes prior to the given launch time at 8:17 a.m. EDT.

Webcast links: http://bit.ly/nrol61

Or: www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

Better yet if you are free and mobile you can watch this truly impressive feat with your own eyes by making your way to the many excellent viewing locations surrounding Cape Canaveral in every direction.

Here’s the rather cool ULA mission art with a webcast link.

ULA Webcast info for launch of Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on July 28, 2016.  Credit: ULA/NRO
ULA Webcast info for launch of Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on July 28, 2016. Credit: ULA/NRO

The NROL-61 patch depicts a green lizard, Spike, riding an Atlas V launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral AFS. Spike was chosen as the mission mascot.

Mission artwork for Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is painted on nose cone of Atlas V rocket and depicts a green lizard, Spike, riding an Atlas V  launch vehicle.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mission artwork for Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is painted on nose cone of Atlas V rocket and depicts a green lizard, Spike, riding an Atlas V launch vehicle. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Florida weather outlook is looking quite promising at this time rather favorable. Air Force meteorologists are predicting an 80 percent chance of ‘GO’ with favorable weather conditions for Thursdays breakfast time blastoff.

The primary weather concern is for Cumulus Clouds.

In the event of a scrub delay for any reason, a backup launch opportunity exists on Friday, July 29. The weather odds are the same at 80% GO!

The rocket should put on a spectacular sky show since it is equipped with a pair of powerful solid rocket boosters spewing fire and an expanding plume of smoke and ash as is soars to orbit!

The Atlas rocket and payload were rolled put to launch pad 41 as planned Tuesday morning, July 26 – for a distance of about 1800 feet from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) where the rocket and payload were assembled, out to the pad.

It is now visibly erect at the pad from a number of viewing locations including Titusville and Playalinda Beach – positioned in between four lightning masts for protection from lightening.

Here’s a detailed mission profile video describing the launch events:

The NROL-61 mission counts as ULA’s sixth launch of 2016 and the 109th overall since the company was founded in 2006.

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 20 story tall Atlas V will launch in its 421 configuration – the same as what will be used for manned launches with the crewed Boeing ‘Starliner’ space taxi carrying astronaut crews to the International Space Station.

This will be the sixth Atlas V to launch in the 421 configuration.

The Atlas 421 vehicle includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and two solid rocket boosters that augment the first stage. 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.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

The strap on solids deliver approximately 500,000 pounds of thrust.

The solids will be jettisoned about 2 minutes after liftoff

The possible roles for the reconnaissance payload include signals intelligence, eavesdropping, imaging and spectroscopic observations, early missile warnings and much more.

The NRO was formed in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and secretly created on September 6, 1961.

“The purpose is overseeing all satellite and overflight reconnaissance projects whether overt or covert. The existence of the organization is no longer classified today, but we’re still pressing to perform the functions necessary to keep American citizens safe,” according to the official NRO website.

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Kennedy Space Center and the ULA Atlas launch pad.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SLS and Orion crew vehicle, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Juno at Jupiter, Orbital ATK Antares & Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

July 27-28: “ULA Atlas V NRO Spysat launch July 28, SpaceX launch to ISS on CRS-9, SLS, Orion, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy NRO spy satellite, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Spectacular Launch of Most Powerful Atlas Completes Constellation of Navy’s Advanced Tactical Comsats – Gallery

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5  mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.  Credit:  United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Today’s (June 24) spectacular launch of the most powerful version of the venerable Atlas V rocket from the sunshine state completes the orbital deployment of a constellation of advanced tactical communications satellites for the U.S. Navy.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the massive MUOS-5 satellite into clear blue skies from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 10:30 a.m. EDT – on its way to a geosynchronous orbit location approximately 22,000 miles (37,586 km) above the Earth.

Note: Check back again for an expanding gallery of launch photos and videos

The Mobile User Objective System-5 (MUOS-5) satellite is the last in a five-satellite constellation that will provide military forces with significantly improved and assured communications worldwide. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the MUOS system.

As launch time neared the weather odds improved to 100% GO and Atlas rumbled off the pad for on time launch that took place at the opening of a 44 minute window.

The launch was broadcast live on a ULA webcast.

The 206 foot tall Atlas rocket roared to space on an expanding plume of smoke and crackling fire from the first stage liquid and solid fueled engines generating over 2.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Their contribution complete, all 5 solid rocket motors were jettisoned with seconds about 2 minutes after liftoff as the liquid fueled first stage continued firing.

The spent first stage separated about 5 minutes after liftoff, as the Centaur second stage fires up for the first of three times over almost three hours to deliver the hefty payload to orbit.

Blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on MUOS-5  mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on MUOS-5 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann

“We are honored to deliver the final satellite in the MUOS constellation for the U.S. Navy,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president, Custom Services, in a statement.

“Congratulations to our navy, air force and Lockheed Martin mission partners on yet another successful launch that provides our warfighters with enhanced communications capabilities to safely and effectively conduct their missions around the globe.”

This is the fifth satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users up to 16 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

Long plume from MUOS-5 Atlas V Launch by United Launch Alliance from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Michael Seeley
Long plume from MUOS-5 Atlas V Launch by United Launch Alliance from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Michael Seeley

With MUOS-5 in orbit the system’s constellation is completed.

MUOS-5 will serve as an on orbit spare. It provides the MUOS network with near-global coverage. Communications coverage for military forces now extends further toward the North and South poles than ever before, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

“Like its predecessors, the MUOS-5 satellite has two payloads to support both new Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform capabilities, as well as the legacy Ultra High Frequency (UHF) satellite system. On orbit, MUOS-5 will augment the constellation as a WCDMA spare, while actively supporting the legacy UHF system, currently used by many mobile forces today.”

The prior MUOS-4 satellite was launched on Sept. 2, 2015 – as I reported here.

The 20 story tall Atlas V launched in its most powerful 551 configuration and performed flawlessly.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying MUOS-5 military comsat streaks to orbit atop a vast exhaust plume after liftoff from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying MUOS-5 military comsat streaks to orbit atop a vast exhaust plume after liftoff from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Jillian Laudick

The vehicle includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and five solid rocket boosters that augment the first stage. 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.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

And the rocket needed all that thrust because the huge MUOS-5 was among the heftiest payloads ever lofted by an Atlas V booster, weighing in at some 15,000 pounds.
The Centaur upper stage was fired a total of three times.

For this mission the payload fairing was outfitted with an upgraded and advanced acoustic system to beet shield the satellite from the intense vibrations during the launch sequence.

This Atlas launch had been delayed several months to rectify a shortfall in the first stage thrust that occurred during the prior mission launching the Orbital ATK OA-6 cargo freighter in March 2016 on a contract mission for NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch comes just two weeks after blastoff of the ULA Delta IV Heavy, the worlds most powerful rocket, on a mission to deliver a top secret spy satellite to orbit – as I witnessed and reported on here.

“I am so proud of the team for all their hard work and commitment to 100 percent mission success,” Maginnis added.

“It is amazing to deliver our second national security payload from the Cape in just two weeks. I know this success is due to our amazing people who make the remarkable look routine.”

The 15,000 pound MUOS payload is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move.

Here’s a detailed mission profile video describing the launch events:

Video caption: Atlas V MUOS-5 Mission Profile launched on June 24, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air force Station. Credit: ULA

The launch was supported by the 45th Space Wing.

“Today’s successful launch is the culmination of the 45th Space Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center, Navy and ULA’s close partnership and dedicated teamwork,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander and mission Launch Decision Authority, in a statement.

“We continue our unwavering focus on mission success and guaranteeing assured access to space for our nation, while showcasing why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.”

Watch this exciting launch highlights video reel from ULA – including deployment of MUOS-5!

The MUOS-5 launch marked the 63rd Atlas V mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in August 2002. To date seven flights have launched in the 551 configuration. These include all four prior MUOS missions as well as NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Watch my up close remote launch video from the pad with hurling rocks:

Video caption: The sounds and fury of a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket blast off carrying Lockheed Martin built MUOS-5 tactical communications satellite to geosynchronous orbit for US Navy on June 24, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this compilation of dramatic launch videos from Jeff Seibert.

Video Caption: MUOS-5 launch compilation on ULA Atlas 5 rocket on 6/24/2016 from Pad 41 of CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The Navy's fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is encapsulated inside an Atlas V five-meter diameter payload fairing.  Credit: ULA
The Navy’s fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is encapsulated inside an Atlas V five-meter diameter payload fairing. Credit: ULA

The next Atlas V launch is slated for July 28 with the NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket poised for launch on MUOS-5  mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket poised for launch on MUOS-5 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann
Artist’s concept of a MUOS satellite in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Artist’s concept of a MUOS satellite in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
MUOS-5 mission logo. Credit: ULA
MUOS-5 mission logo. Credit: ULA
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5  mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016.  Credit:  United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

World’s Largest Rocket Ready to Rumble Saturday With Secret NRO Spy Satellite – Watch Live

Flock of 5 pelicans fly close recon over unveiled Delta 4 Heavy rocket set to launch NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Flock of 5 pelicans fly close recon over unveiled Delta 4 Heavy rocket set to launch NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — The world’s largest rocket was ready to rumble with a secret spy satellite for the NRO until Thursday’s stormy weather across the so-called ‘sunshine state’ postponed the engines roar by 48 hours to Saturday, June 11.

After a forlorn four hour wait in hopes of a parting of the gloomy gray rainy skies around the Florida Space Coast, launch officials with rocker maker United Launch Alliance (ULA) threw in the towel at 6 p.m. EDT and kept the triple barreled Delta 4 Heavy rocket and its over $1.5 Billion clandestine cargo critical to national defense prudently grounded for a better day.

An early afternoon blastoff of the classified NROL-37 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) atop the powerful ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket is now slated for 1:51 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Saturday, June 11.

The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In an unusual move, the launch time of America’s newest spy satellite on America’s most powerful rocket had been announced in advance of Thursday’s plans by ULA. Liftoff of the NROL-37 surveillance satellite had been slated for 1:59 p.m. June 9. Saturdays launch time has moved up 8 minutes.

The good news is you can watch the now weekend launch live via a ULA broadcast which starts 20 minutes prior to the given launch time at 1:31 p.m. EDT June 11.

Webcast link: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37

Or – if you are free and mobile – you can watch this truly impressive feat with your own eyes as a rarely afforded treat – by making your way to the many excellent viewing locations surrounding Cape Canaveral.

Since this is a national security launch, the exact launch time and launch window are both actually classified. So the liftoff could easily occur later than 1:51 p.m. EDT Saturday.

Although the announced ‘launch period’ on Thursday extended until 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT), the actual launch window was also classified and fell somewhere within that lengthy launch period.

Due to Thursday’s weather scrub at 6 p.m. , we can now probably conclude that the actual launch window for NROL-37 lasts about 4 hours. So Saturday’s full launch window should run until shortly before 6 p.m. EDT.

Unfortunately the weather outlook has deteriorated from earlier indications and may be as trying as Thursday’s launch attempt.

The official Air Forces prognosis calls for only a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions on June 11.

The primary concerns are for Anvil Clouds, Cumulus Clouds and Lightning – quite similar to those on June 9.

“The trough that lingered in the area all week and caused multiple weather Launch Commit Criteria violations yesterday will continue to plague the area today.

Meteorological models are now showing the boundary still lingering in the area Saturday, and an upper-level short wave will also move through during the launch window,” according to the official Air Force forecast for June 11.

“Showers and thunderstorms are still likely along the trough. Also, anvils from inland thunderstorms will migrate toward the Space Coast.”

In case of a scrub for any reason related to technical or weather issues, ULA has NOT announced the next launch opportunity, a ULA spokesperson told Universe Today.

The Air Force did say that the weather odds rise significantly to an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions in case of a potential 48 hour scrub turnaround for potential on Monday, June 13.

Whenever the 24 story tall rocket soars skyward it will put on a spectacular sky show.

Virtually nothing is known about the clandestine payload, since its mission, purpose and goals are classified top secret – but it is absolutely vital to America’s national security.

The 235-foot-tall rocket will likely launch the classified NROL-37 surveillance satellite into a geosynchronous orbit and an altitude of 22,300 miles.

NROL-37 is being launched for the NRO on an intelligence gathering mission in support of US national defense.

The possible roles for the reconnaissance payload include signals intelligence, eavesdropping, imaging and spectroscopic observations, early missile warnings and much more.

Reports indicate it may be one of the largest satellites ever launched, weigh some 17,000 pounds and may deploy an antenna over 300 feet wide for eavesdropping purposes.

Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 spy satellite awaits launch from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force.  Credit: Lane Herman
Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 spy satellite awaits launch from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force. Credit: Lane Herman

Seeing a Delta 4 Heavy soar to space is a rare treat since they launch infrequently.

The last of these to launch from the Cape was for NASA’s inaugural test flight of the Orion crew capsule on the EFT-1 launch in Dec. 5, 2014. No other rocket was powerful enough.

The Delta IV Heavy employs three Common Core Boosters (CBCs). Two serve as strap-on liquid rocket boosters (LRBs) to augment the first-stage CBC and 5-m-diameter payload fairing housing the payload.

Each first stage CBC is powered by an upgraded RS-68 engine, which generates a combined 2.1 million pounds of thrust fueled by cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Watch this up close video tour of the Delta 4 Heavy on pad 37 after retraction of the Mobile Service Structure from my space friends at USLaunchReport.

Video Caption: ULA is launching the 2.1 million lbs thrust “Heavy” on June 11, 2016 from Pad 37 on CCAFS. Credit: USLaunchReport

The NRO was formed in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and secretly created on September 6, 1961.

“The purpose is overseeing all satellite and overflight reconnaissance projects whether overt or covert. The existence of the organization is no longer classified today, but we’re still pressing to perform the functions necessary to keep American citizens safe,” according to the official NRO website.

Credit: Julian Leek
Credit: Julian Leek

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the SpaceX launch pad.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

June 10/11: “ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The June 9 launch of the ULA Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite is planned for 1:59 p.m.  EDT.  Broadcast starts at 1:39 p.m. EDT  Watch the live webcast:  http://bit.ly/div_nrol37
The June 9 launch of the ULA Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite is planned for 1:59 p.m. EDT. Broadcast starts at 1:39 p.m. EDT Watch the live webcast: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37

Atlas V Launch of Navy’s Revolutionary MUOS-4 Tactical Comsat Produces Exotic Skyshow

ULA Atlas V rocket successfully launches MUOS-4 for the U.S. Navy on Sept. 2, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: ULA
See launch gallery below[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Today’s (Sept. 2) stunningly successful launch of the US Navy’s revolutionary MUOS-4 tactical communications satellite atop a mighty Atlas V rocket produced an unexpectedly exotic skyshow beyond compare for lucky spectators all around the Florida Space Coast, as it thundered off a Cape Canaveral launch pad and simultaneously generated house and bone rattling vibrations.

Seasoned and long time launch enthusiasts have rarely if ever never seen anything like this morning’s spectacular predawn launch of the Mobile User Objective System-4 (MUOS-4) satellite for the US Navy at 6:18 a.m. EDT aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

As the rocket arced over eastwards above the Atlantic Ocean the huge vapor trail turned utterly exotic – producing a whitish oval glow that appeared out of nowhere, and looked to me like a moving and living creature as it moved downwards and forwards. Although the rocket appeared to head towards the Earth’s horizon it was actually being propelled to orbit by the most powerful variant of the Atlas V rocket.

Exotic vapor produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor/Space Head News
Exotic vapor trail produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor/Space Head News

The alien looking trail was fortuitously highlighted by glint from the sun that may have been enhanced by a slight delay of some 19 minutes from the originally planned launch time of 5:59 a.m. EDT as the launch team worked to resolve a technical issue.

Local residents in the Titusville, Fl, area and surroundings told me that their houses and windows shook this morning from the powerful roar and thunderous sound waves pulsing away from the Atlas V rocket. Sleeping children were awoken, close to school time anyway! And another gentleman said he felt it inside the shower with running water – having misunderstood the launch time!

The MUOS-4 launch by United Launch Alliance had also been postponed by 48 hours from Monday morning Aug. 31 due to threatening weather expected from Tropical Storm Erika which most likely would have obliterated today’s uniquely beautiful experience!

Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Lockheed Martin-built MUOS-4 satellite was successfully orbited by the Atlas V and is already talking from space to the satellite control team at the Naval Spacecraft Operations Control facility in Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, Calif.

MUOS-4 will enable near-global coverage for a new secure military communications network offering enhanced capabilities for mobile forces.

“Today’s successful launch will enable the MUOS constellation to reach global coverage,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

“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.”

Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL  resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch

MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move.

This is the fourth satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users up to 16 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

With MUOS-4 in orbit the system’s initial constellation is completed. It provides the MUOS network with near-global coverage. Communications coverage for military forces now extends further toward the North and South poles than ever before, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

Exotic vapor produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Exotic vapor trail produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The unmanned Atlas V expendable rocket launched in its mightiest configuration known as the Atlas V 551 with five solid rocket boosters augmenting the first stage.

The 206 foot-tall rocket features a 5-meter diameter payload fairing, five Aerojet Rocketdyne first stage strap on solid rocket motors and a single engine Centaur upper stage powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The first stage is powered by the Russian-built dual nozzle RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. Combined with the five solid rocket motors, the Atlas V first stage generates over 2.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

And the rocket needed all that thrust because the huge MUOS-4 was among the heftiest payloads ever lofted by an Atlas V booster, weighing in at some 15,000 pounds.

MUOS-4, the next satellite scheduled to join the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) secure communications network, launched on Sept 2, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and is responding normally to ground control.  Credit: Lockheed Martin
MUOS-4, the next satellite scheduled to join the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) secure communications network, launched on Sept 2, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and is responding normally to ground control. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Ken is onsite for launch coverage from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about MUOS-4 US Navy launch, Orion, SLS, SpaceX, Boeing, ULA, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orbital ATK, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Sep 2/3: “MUOS-4 launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL  resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Liftoff of MUOS-4 comsat for US Navy on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek/Space Head News
Liftoff of MUOS-4 comsat for US Navy on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek/Space Head News
MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Sept. 2, 2015 at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Sept. 2, 2015 at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com