Billion-Dollar US Military Satellite to Launch Today

A billion-dollar US missile defense satellite was moved to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41. Located inside the nose cone on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket, it is set to launch on Monday afternoon.

The United States Space Force Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) spacecraft will be rolled out to the launch pad at 10 am EDT (14:00 GMT) today and is set to launch at 1:35 pm EDT (17:35 GMT) during a 40-minute window. Containing infrared sensors that detect hot plumes from missile launches all over the world, the SBIRS will provide an early missile warning for the US military.

The Lockheed Martin-built satellite is estimated to have cost $1 billion, military officials said.  It is also considered one of the country’s highest priority space programs. The satellite will head for a perch in a circular geosynchronous orbit more than 22,300 mi (36,888 km) over the equator.

“We’re building strong momentum with the fifth SBIRS GEO satellite ready for launch and the sixth currently in production. Thanks to our mission partners at Lockheed Martin Space Systems and United Launch Alliance, these satellites will soon be contributing to the Space Force’s critical missile-warning mission that protects our nation and allies every single day,”  SBIRS GEO- 5/6 production materiel leader Lt. Col. Ryan Laughton said.

Preparing the Atlas-5

On Saturday, the 194-foot-tall (59m) Atlas 5 rocket was rolled out from the Vertical Integration Facility at ULA to its launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41. Crews connected the rocket and its mobile launch platform to the ground system and mated electrical, data, and fluid lines for the countdown today.

Around 25,000 gallons of RP-1 kerosene were loaded into Atlas 5’s first stage, which comes in at 3.8 m (12 ft) in diameter and 32.5 m (107 ft) in length. The first stage engine will then consume kerosene in combination with liquid oxygen during the first four-and-a-half minutes of the flight.

The rocket is set to head east from Cape Canaveral after liftoff. It will join a fleet of infrared sentinels — four SBIRS GEO satellites — stationed in geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles (35,888 km) over the equator. The SBIRS GEO 5 will differ from the previous four as it has an upgraded spacecraft design called the “combat bus” that provides more power, speed, and resilience.

Since the rocket’s debut in 2002, today’s launch will mark the eighth flight of the Atlas 5-421 and the 87th launch of an Atlas 5 rocket.


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