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

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