United Launch Alliance, the space flight company formed jointly by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, today successfully launched its latest tricked-out version of the Atlas V rocket and delivered the U.S. Navy’s fifth Mobile User Objective System (M.U.O.S.-5) satellite into orbit, which allows troops to communicate securely and seamlessly.
The satellite is actually just a spare for the Navy and doesn’t represent a radical increase in technology, says Pete Sheehy, commander in the Navy’s Communications Satellite Program Office, who sat down for an interview during the webcast of the launch.
“Keeping a spare is all part of ensuring that this M.U.O.S. capability that we’re delivering will be around for the next ten-plus years,” Sheehy said. “If one of these satellites reaches their end of life or has an issue we’ll be able to ensure that either the coverage or the capacity impact is minimized to the greatest extent possible. Obviously, launches like what we experience today require months and months of preparation and that’s something we do not want to wait for.”
The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, precisely on-time and under great weather conditions. The Atlas V 551 rockets have been flying since 2002 and have a near-perfect launch record over its now seven flights. Its record was crystal clear until a partial failure occurred earlier this year, and today was its first launch since.
Atlas V has been grounded since March, when during a resupply mission to the International Space Station via NASA’s commercial partner Orbital ATK, the vehicle’s main engine cut off six seconds earlier than expected. No harm was done as the capsule still successfully made it to the station, but ULA decided it was best to postpone all future flights until the problem was discovered and resolved.
Since then, updates have been made to the Atlas V to account for the “unexpected shift in fuel pressure differential” that caused the mishap and the rocket was once again cleared for flight.
This is the same insanely powerful Atlas V 551 configuration that launched the New Horizons mission to Pluto in 2006, making it the fastest object launched from Earth at 36,000 miles per hour.