Atlas 5 launches Space Force satellite to test early warning technology

Atlas 5 launches Space Force satellite to test early warning technology

After waiting for cloudy weather, the US space force launched two satellites on top of an Atlas 5 rocket last Friday to test ballistic and hypersonic missile early warning and tracking technology and to deploy a manoeuvrable spacecraft carrying an unknown number of classified payloads. .

Already one day late due to stormy weather, the $ 1.1 billion USSF-12 mission got off to a shaky start at 19:15 EDT when its United Launch Alliance rocket thundered to life with 2.3 million pounds of traction from its first stage engine and four strap-on boosters.

After a spectacular jet of flaming exhaust, the 196-foot rocket quickly climbed from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, stabbed through low clouds and quickly disappeared from sight as it swept east across the Atlantic.

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A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket exploded from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Friday with two USSF satellites, including a pathfinder to test new missile detection and tracking technology.

United Launch Alliance


Eleven minutes later, the Aerojet Rocketdyne engine, propelling the second stage of the rocket, completed the first of three planned launches designed to place the two satellites in a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator. The journey was expected to take about six hours and ended early on Saturday with the deployment of the satellites from Centaur’s second stage.

Satellites at such geosynchronous altitudes take 24 hours to complete an orbit and thus rotate at a locked pace with the earth, enabling continuous hemispherical views and enabling the use of stationary ground antennas to transmit data and commands.

The Wide Field of View Testbed Satellite, or WFOV, has an infrared sensor developed by L3Harris that will be evaluated to determine its ability to both detect and track ballistic missiles and more maneuverable hypersonic weapons.

The second satellite, known as the USSF-12 Ring, is a space car, equipped with six ports to accommodate instruments, sensors or small deployable satellites. What may be on board the USSF-12 mission was not revealed.

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An artist’s impression of the experimental Wide Field of View Testbed early warning satellite.

Millennium Space Systems


As for the WFOV satellite, “Space Force’s number one mission is missile warning and missile tracking missions,” said Colonel Brian Denaro of the Space Systems Command. The USSF-12 mission “is an important first step in the priority mission area.”

The WFOV spacecraft is not intended to serve as an operational satellite for early warning. Instead, it will test the new sensor system and technologies to process the vast amounts of data it will generate to help “inform” designers of follow-up satellite systems.

“The threat is really evolving at an unparalleled rapid pace that we have not seen before,” Denaro said during a pre-launch briefing. “We are looking at a range of targets and missiles in the hypersonic domain that are much more maneuverable, they are darker, they are harder to see.”

“And it requires a new approach to how we both detect and then track all of these missiles throughout their flight,” Denaro added.

The Space Force is already developing Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared – OPIR – satellites that will eventually replace the current Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, early warning satellites.

Lockheed Martin has a $ 4.9 billion contract to build three geosynchronous OPIR satellites, while Northrop Grumman provides two lower-altitude polar satellites under a separate $ 2.4 billion contract.

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