Air Force Missile Warning SBIRS GEO 4 Satellite Poised for Spectacular Night Liftoff Jan. 18: Watch Live

Ken Kremer -- Space UpClose -- 17 Jan 2018

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL - A U.S. Air Force satellite that will provide vital early warnings on incoming enemy missiles that are critical to the defense of our homeland sits poised for a spectacular nighttime blastoff on Thursday Jan. 18 from the Florida Space Coast.

The Atlas V rocket carrying the $1.2 Billion SBIRS GEO Flight 4 infrared imaging satellite counts as the first launch of 2018 by rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) from Florida’s Spaceport and the second overall for ULA in 2018 - following last week’s NRO NROL-47 launch on the last Delta IV medium from Vandenberg AFB, California.

Following last weeks SpaceX Zuma launch (read our stories) it’s the years second liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

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.

At T-minus 1 day, the ULA Atlas V rocket is ready for liftoff on Thursday, Jan. 18 from seaside Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“The ULA Launch Readiness Review is complete! ULA’s Atlas V rocket is set to launch the SBIRS GEO Flight 4 mission,” ULA announced today.

The 20 story tall rocket and payload were rolled out vertically this morning, Jan. 17, some 1800 feet (600 m) from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) processing hangar to pad 41 – in the shadow of the debut SpaceX Falcon Heavy raised vertical at adjacent pad 39A. The Atlas V on top of the mobile launch platform was pushed out using two "trackmobiles."

SpaceUpClose watched the rollout first hand and got an UpClose view of the rocket while setting up remote cameras at the pad this afternoon. Check out our photos and related new articles.

It’s a remarkable first having a ULA Atlas V and SpaceX Falcon Heavy poised for liftoff on neighboring launch pads.

The launch of SBIRS GEO Flight 4 comes almost exactly 1 year after the SBIRS GEO 3launch likewise on an Atlas V. The satellites were built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite will be launched to geosynchronous transfer orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) over the equator.

It is the fourth satellite in this series 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 US cities, infrastructure and military installations.

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.

The launch window opens at 7:52 p.m. EST (0052 GMT).

The launch window extends for 40 minutes from 7:52-8:32 p.m. EST.

Spectators are flocking into Space Coast area hotels for the super convenient dinnertime blastoff. And they will have a blast ! - if all goes well.

You can watch the Atlas launch live via a ULA webcast. The live launch broadcast will begin about 20 minutes before the planned liftoff at 7:32 p.m. EST here:

The current launch weather forecast for Thursday, Jan. 18, calls for an 90 percent chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time. The primary concern is for cumulus clouds.

The backup launch opportunity is on Friday.

In case of a scrub for any reason, technical or weather, the chances remain favorable at90% GO.

“SBIRS, considered one of the nation's highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands in four national security mission areas including: missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.”

The first SBIRS satellite was launched in 2011 and the second in 2013.

SBIRS GEO 4 will launch southeast at an inclination of 16.88 degrees. It separates fromthe 2nd stage 42 minutes and 31 seconds after liftoff.

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 124 successful launches under its belt.

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 dual nozzle Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. There is one thrust augmenting solid attached to the first stage generating approximately348,500 pounds of thrust.

The satellite is housed inside a 4-meter diameter large payload fairing (LPF). The Centaur upper stage is powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.

Watch this video showing the detailed mission profile:

Video Caption: Atlas V SBIRS GEO Flight 4 Mission Profile. An Atlas V 411 rocket will launch the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 4 mission for the U.S.Air Force to orbit from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex-41.SBIRS, considered one of the nation's highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands.Credit: ULA

This mission marks the 5th Atlas V mission in the 411 configuration, including NASA’s OSIRIS-REX.

The three prior SBIRS GEO missions launched on the ULA Atlas V 401 configuration rocket.

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, according to a ULA description.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of Falcon Heavy, ULA and NASA and spacemission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: –