Friday, February 24, 2012

Blast off! Atlas 5 lifts Navy Satellite

Atlas lifts off from LC-41. Credit: SpaceFlight Now.

The MUOS 1 Mobile Communications Satellite was lifted into orbit Friday afternoon from Cape Canaveral at 3:15 pm MST. The US Navy will use the satellite to improve communications between ships and naval ground forces. MUOS 1 is built by Lockheed.

MUOS satellite graphic, credit Lockheed.

This was the 200th launch of the Centaur second-stage rocket system, which carries the satellites from the first stage Atlas rocket to an orbit before releasing the payload. Congratulations Centaur!

The Atlas 5 rocket is a joint project between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, under the organization of United Space Alliance. This rocket is under consideration of being man-rated to carry the new CST-100 crew capsule, currently being developed. This combination would be used to ferry astronauts to the ISS and back to Earth. It is also a possible launcher for the Dream Chaser, under development by Sierra Nevada Space Systems. The DreamChaser resembles a lifting-body design.

Dream Chaser- Atlas 5 configuration computer model. Credit Sierra Nevada Space Systems.

No doubt we'll be seeing more of the Atlas-5 in the competition for low-Earth-orbit capsules. In the meantime the Atlas 5 is very successful at delivering payloads into space. One of the spacecraft launched by an Atlas 5 is the New Horizon explorer, currently more than halfway to the dwarf planet Pluto! Another interesting payload is the Air Force's new X-37B unmanned robot shuttle, which is still on a mysterious mission in orbit.

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