United Launch Alliance (ULA) held its sixth launch of the year on Thursday at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and it went off without a hitch. The company livestreamed the launch on YouTube, presented by propulsion engineering manager Matt Donovan.
ULA used the Atlas V 421 configuration rocket, and it’s a hefty beast: When fueled, the rocket weighs a staggering one million pounds and reaches 20 stories high. On July 19, the rocket was moved on a mobile launch platform pushed by two railcars into position. Including the rocket, the entire convoy weighed three and a half million pounds. Now that’s big.
The rocket was delivering a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), with the mission designation NROL-61. A four-meter diameter payload fairing on top of the rocket protects the satellite. The space-bound lizard design was produced by the NRO for the mission.
The NRO uses satellites for reconnaissance missions to help with intelligence gathering and communications. Some of these capabilities will also be used by the Department of Defence (DoD) in their work. The satellite will be able to help gather data for military targeting, peacekeeping and natural disaster response plans.
The launch is the 109th for the company, which was founded in 2006. During that time, the company has proved vital in bringing satellites into orbit. Last year in October, ULA sent an Atlas V rocket carrying spy satellites into space. In December, an Atlas V rocket took supplies to the five astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Thursday’s launch is the 64th Atlas V launch. Normally, these rockets take just less than a year to build, but recent advancements mean that ULA claim that they can get a rocket launched in half that time. Personnel working on Atlas V number in the thousands, but the people that actually touch it during assembly only number in the hundreds.
ULA’s next rocket launch is scheduled for August 19, when the Delta IV AFSPC-6 is scheduled for liftoff. Keep your eyes peeled if you’re taking a flight on that day — last month, a man on a flight from Rhode Island to Florida managed to snap a picture of an Atlas V taking a Navy satellite into orbit. In Ryan Kennedy’s words, “the people on the other side of the plane were PISSED.”
You can watch the full livestream broadcast footage here (liftoff is at the 40-minute mark):
Photos via ULA/YouTube