United Launch Alliance groups mounted a top secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Workplace on top of an Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral Monday in preparation for a liftoff scheduled just after sundown Nov. 3.
The Atlas 5 launcher is set to blast off from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Flying Force Station at 5: 58 p.m. EST (2258 GMT) next Tuesday, Nov. 3. That’s around 22 minutes after sundown at the Florida spaceport.
The Election Day launch– codenamed NROL-101– will be the very first Atlas 5 rocket flight to be powered by a brand-new design of strap-on solid rocket boosters built by Northrop Grumman. The Northrop Grumman boosters replace solid-fueled motors from Aerojet Rocketdyne that flew on previous Atlas 5 rockets.
The Atlas 5 flight from pad 41 is going on next week as ULA continues fixing launch pad infrastructure issues at the company’s other Cape Canaveral launch center. Those issues have actually postponed the flight of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket with a various NRO spy satellite because late August, and caused ULA to swap the order of its missions to have the next Atlas 5 flight go initially.
The most recent perpetrator for the Delta 4-Heavy launch delays has been a concern with the swing arms on the pad.
Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, tweeted Oct. 20 that the business is repairing a mechanical issue with the swing arms on pad 37 B.
” We are resolving the hydraulics on the swing arms, replacing numerous lots valves, a couple thousand gallons of hydraulic fluid, and several other important items,” Bruno tweeted. “We will set a flight date soon. Objective success is the concern.”
The launch delays have actually raised worry about aging infrastructure at the Delta 4 launch pads. ULA has only 5 more Delta 4-Heavy missions in its backlog through 2023 before the Delta rocket household is retired in favor of the company’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket.
” W e do more, not less, to preserve the Delta pads today,” Bruno tweeted. “Nevertheless, with the low launch pace, and advanced age, they seemed to have actually crossed a limit, so we will change.”
The Delta ground systems are more than 20 years old, Bruno added, and “handling a low launch pace.”
He said ULA engineers are examining Delta 4’s launch pad systems to identify how to “reset their life” with preemptive refurbishment and replacements, along with regular activations and testing in between objectives.
The next Delta 4-Heavy launch– designated NROL-44– is now expected to take off a long time after the business’s next Atlas 5 mission set for Nov. 3.
Read more about the NROL-44 launch delays in our earlier story.
The launch campaign for the next Atlas 5 objective began with the raising of the rocket’s very first stage– tail number AV-090– on its mobile launch platform inside the Vertical Combination Center near launch pad 41 on Sept.11 In the list below days, professionals set up the rocket’s three GEM 63 solid-fueled boosters on the bottom of the bronze first stage.
Employees then added the rocket’s Centaur upper stage, currently incorporated with the bottom part of the Atlas 5’s payload fairing, made by RUAG Space in Switzerland.
Recently, ULA transferred the Atlas 5 rocket to pad 41 for a fueling test and practice countdown. The ULA group packed the Atlas 5’s first stage with its flight supply of RP-1 kerosene fuel, which will remain aboard the rocket through launch.
On Oct. 21, the Atlas 5 team ran through countdown treatments and filled the rocket’s very first stage with its load of super-cold liquid oxygen. The Atlas 5’s Centaur upper phase was also filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as the practice countdown continued through pre-launch checkouts, polling, and last status checks prior to cutoff of the series simply prior to the point of engine ignition.
The rocket was then drained of its hydrogen and oxygen propellants and went back to the VIF a quarter-mile to the south of pad 41.
The categorized payload for the NROL-101 objective was mounted on top of the Atlas 5 rocket Monday, capping assembly of the 206- foot-tall (63- meter) launch automobile.
The launch scheduled next week will mark the 86 th flight of an Atlas 5 rocket, and the 4th Atlas 5 to launch in the “531” setup with three strong rocket boosters and a 5.4-meter-diameter (177- foot) payload fairing.
It will be ULA’s 5th objective of 2020.
The new GEM 63 motors set to debut on the Atlas 5 objective next week step 66 feet (20 meters) long and 63 inches (1.6 meters) large.
The GEM 63 booster style is an evolution of the 60- inch GEM 60 motor developed by Northrop Grumman for ULA’s Delta 4 rocket household. There are no more Delta fours left to fly that require the GEM 60 solid rocket booster.
Northrop Grumman, through its predecessors ATK and Orbital ATK, likewise provided smaller strap-on boosters for the now-retired Delta 2 and Delta 3 rocket households.
The boosters offer an additional push to rockets carrying heavier payloads into orbit, or objectives that need to put satellites into high-altitude orbits. The Atlas 5 rocket can launch with any variety of solid-fueled boosters between no and five, depending upon the requirements of each objective.
— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) October 26, 2020
Like the AJ-60 A motor, the GEM 63 will have repaired nozzles and a curved, or ogive, nose cone, offering the correct aerodynamic shape to make sure the booster cleanly falls away from the Atlas 5 after burnout. Northrop Grumman’s GEM 63 booster produces approximately the very same thrust and has roughly the same dimensions as the AJ-60 A, allowing ULA to present the brand-new booster model as a “direct replacement” for the older Aerojet Rocketdyne variation.
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AJ-60 A motor has a perfect record since its very first usage on the Atlas 5’s third launch in July 2003, with 127 of the boosters flown to date.
ULA revealed in 2015 the choice of Orbital ATK– now part of Northrop Grumman– to supply strong rocket boosters for future Atlas 5 launches, and for the next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket. At the time, ULA stated the selection of the GEM 63 rocket motor would “substantially lower the cost to ULA and to the U.S. federal government.”
The Northrop Grumman boosters, made with the aid of sophisticated robotics and automation, are also created to be easier to connect to the launch lorry at the Vertical Combination Center, the company states.
An extended version of the GEM 63 known as the GEM 63 XL will fly on ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is set up for an inaugural launch in the second half of2021 The Atlas 5 rocket can fly with any number of strong rocket boosters from absolutely no to five, while the Vulcan Centaur can launch in configurations with 2, four or 6 boosters alongside the rocket’s two Blue Origin BE-4 primary engines.
Northrop Grumman carried out three test-firings of GEM 63 boosters at a test site in Promontory, Utah, before engineers cleared the solid-fueled rocket motor for flight.
The AJ-60 A motors from Aerojet Rocketdyne are not done.
Julie Arnold, a ULA representative, said the company will continue to fly the Aerojet Rocketdyne boosters on future Atlas 5 missions up until the rocket is completely transitioned to the Northrop Grumman motors. The AJ-60 As will continue launching on missions with Boeing’s Starliner industrial crew pill, and ULA is working with NASA towards the future use of GEM 63 s on astronaut launches.
Arnold said ULA prepare for all Atlas 5 launches after 2021 to utilize the new GEM 63 s.
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