ULA Atlas V Delivers SBIRS ‘Global Watchman’ Ballistic Missile Early Warning Satellite to Orbit: Photos
Ken Kremer -- Space UpClose -- 20 Jan 2018CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Just hours before the shutdown of the U.S. government due to a budget impasse between the political parties in the national capitol, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas Vrocket blasted off at dinnertime Friday night, Jan. 19 and successfully delivered the SBIRS Geo Flight 4 infrared surveillance and enemy ballistic missile detection satellite to orbit for the U.S. Air Force from Florida’s spaceport.
The 5 ton, 50-foot-long high priority satellite was “responding to commands” soon thereafter confirming its healthy on orbit operation.
Liftoff of the Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRSGeo Flight 4 satellite took place right at the opening of the launch window Jan. 19 at 7:48 p.m. EST, fromseaside SpaceLaunch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by rocket provider United Launch Alliance (ULA).
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Flocks of excited spectators from across the globe gathered at beaches and lined causeways ringing the Florida Space Coast for the especially convenient dinnertime blastoff as the 19-story tall Atlas V roared off pad 41 into crystal clear, cloudless and comfortably warm evening skies.
We observed a stunning sky spectacle for over 5 uninterrupted minutes as the first and second stages separated as the rocket and payload arced over to the African continent and accelerated to orbit.
Watch this video compilation of the launch captured by cameras stationed at multiple angles:
Video Caption: UP CLOSE Atlas-V Launches SBIRS GEO-4 Missile Defense Satellite / Jan 19, 2018. Views from our remote cameras capturing up-close angles of a ULA Atlas-V rocket, flying a rare '411' configuration with 1 solid rocket booster, to deliver America's fourth critical SBIRS missile defense satellite (GEO-4) to orbit for the U.S Air Force on Jan 19, 2018. Credit: Jeff Seibert
“The successful launch of SBIRS GEO Flight-4 is the reward for years of hard work put in by our combined government and industry team,” said Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of the Remote Sensing Directorate, in a statement.
“Putting this fourth SBIRS GEO satellite on-orbit is the capstone event for the original SBIRS baseline constellation, and I’m proud of everyone involved. Without their perseverance and dedication to the mission, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
The SBIRS system functions as a 24/7 ‘global watchman’ with infrared eyes that are “more precise and powerful than expected.”
The scanning sensor continuously scans the earth to provide tactical alerts on missile warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness, and tactical intelligence critical to the defense of our homeland and our allies.
"SBIRS is the nation’s 24-7 global watchman, with infrared eyes ready to detect and deliver early warning and tracking of ballistic missiles. A cornerstone of the nation’s missile defense system, SBIRS is proving even more precise and powerful than expected," saidTom McCormick, vice president of Lockheed Martin's Overhead Persistent Infrared systems mission area.
Government and military leaders say the Space Based Infrared System(SBIRS) is “considered to be one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, and is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands.”
SBIRS GEO 4 launched southeast at an inclination of 16.88 degrees. It separated from the 2nd stage 42 minutes and 31 seconds after liftoff as planned.
“Following separation, the spacecraft began a series of orbital maneuvers to propel it to a geosynchronous earth orbit. Once in its final orbit, engineers will deploy the satellite's solar arrays and antennas. The engineers will then complete checkout and tests in preparation for operational use,” said the USAF.
The USAF Space Based Infrared System(SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) Flight 4 satellite is designed to detect infrared signatures that will deliver vital early warnings on incoming hostile nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles in case of an enemy attack on the US and its allies.
The crucial role of SBIRS was highlighted just days ago by the false missile attack alert alarm sent out by Hawaiian state authorities with the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) warning of an imminent ballistic missile attack of the type that this satellite would detect. The false alarm panicked hordes of residents and tourists alike and took 38 minutes to correct.
With the unpredictable North Korean dictator Kim John Un repeatedly launching ever more powerful and upgraded long range intercontinental ballistic missiles this past year that could potentially strike virtually the entire United States land mass, SBIRS GEO 4 ismore important than ever for our national defense.
Friday nights launch counts as the fourth in the SBIRS constellation. It marked the completion of the initial network of a quartet of infrared surveillance satellites that will provide rapid and accurate warning of attacking enemy strategic missiles via infrared signatures - as well as critical targeting data to US missile defense systems to enable swiftly responding launches that will hopefully destroy the attackers in the battle space arena before impacting and destroying US cities, infrastructure and military installations and killing untold millions.
“The delivery, launch, and successful operation of GEO Flight-4 will mark the fulfillment of the original SBIRS baseline constellation and reaffirm our commitment to provide our country, warfighters, and senior leaders with timely, reliable, and accurate missile warning and infrared surveillance information,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for space.
The $1.2 Billion Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite was launched into geosynchronous transfer orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) over the equator.
The U.S. Air Force’s 460th Space Wing reported a successful acquisition of signals from the satellite 37 minutes later.
“SBIRS GEO Flight-4 satellite is responding to the Wing’s commands as planned. Signal acquisition was confirmed approximately37 minutes after the satellite’s 7:48 p.m.EST launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas,” reported satellite builder Lockheed Martin.
“SBIRS GEO Flight-4 is the latest satellite to join the Air Force’s orbiting missile warning constellation equipped with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors.”
“The sensors collect data for use by the U.S. military to detect missile launches, supportballistic missile defense, expand technical intelligence gathering and bolster situational awareness on the battlefield. The satellite also completes the initial constellation and allows SBIRS to provide global coverage.”
“Finalizing the preparations for the fourth launch of a SBIRS GEO satellite is a big deal,”notes Col. Dennis Bythewood. “The entire team understands how significant this is, andwe’re ready to make it happen.”
The SBIRS constellation is replacing the Defense Support Program (DSP) constellation which has been in operation since 1970.
The 194-foot-tall commercial Atlas V booster launched in the 411 rocket configuration with approximately 860,000 pounds of sea level first stage thrust powered by the singleengine dual nozzle Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene propellants. There is one thrust augmenting Aerojet-Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket booster (SRB) attached to the first stage generating approximately348,500 pounds of thrust.
The 10,000 pound satellite is housed inside a 4-meter (14 foot) diameter large payload fairing (LPF). The Centaur upper stage is powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine producing 22,900 lb of thrust fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
This mission marked the 5th Atlas V mission in the minimally used 411 configuration, including NASA’s OSIRIS-REX asteroid sampling probe.
The three prior SBIRS GEO missions launched on the ULA Atlas V 401 workhouse configuration of the rocket.
The solid rocket booster was added for a controlled deorbit of the second stage.
Launch of the 194-foot-tall two stage Atlas V rocket had been delayed a day due to an issue with a faulty ground hardware valve with the first stage boosters liquid oxygen system.
The launch of SBIRS GEO Flight 4 comes almost exactly 1 year after the SBIRS GEO 3launch likewise on an Atlas V in January 2017.
The first SBIRS satellite was launched in 2011 and the second in 2013.
The satellites were built at prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California.
Lockheed Martin is under contract to build two more upgraded satellites in the SBIRS series based on the LM 2100 satellite bus. SBIRS 5 and 6 will launch after 2020.
“We’re already improving on SBIRS, upgrading our fifth and sixth SBIRS GEO satellites to our modernized LM 2100 satellite busat no additional cost to the Air Force. On SBIRS 5 and 6 the Air Force saved $1 billion through improved production and management efficiencies,” noted Tom McCormick.
ULA has enjoyed a 100% success rate up to this 75th Atlas V launch stretching back to the company’s founding back in 2006 and the Atlas V inaugural flight in 2002.
ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin with 125 successful launches nowunder its belt.
The SBIRS team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system.
Read our detailed prelaunch and launch stories.
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