First launch for new US Space Force planned in Florida on Thursday


RELEASE: The first official launch for the new U.S. Space Force is scheduled to lift off from Florida on Thursday afternoon with a military communications satellite aboard. The launch is planned at 2:57 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Complex 41 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with boosters attached. A two-hour launch window is in place in case of delays.

The rocket will carry the sixth in a series of next-generation satellites known as Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF. The satellites have an upgraded anti-jamming capability. The launch also would be the first under Florida's restrictions against public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The military has barred public or media viewing aton the station, and has required all personnel to work from home if possible, said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing and range director at nearby Patrick Air Force Base.

Schiess said the Space Force is taking all precautions, including rotation of launch crews and restricting interaction between those crews, and sitting further apart in the operations center. "We wipe down all of our operations centers every time there's someone new on a console," Schiess said.

He said that neither Patrick Air Foce Base nor the missile complex had positive cases of COVID-19, but that several people have been isolated and are awaiting test results after displaying symptoms of the disease.

ULA said the rocket had rolled to the launch pad Wednesday. Weather is expected to be 80 percent favorable for the launch, with a chance of cumulus clouds being the only possible problem, according to a military forecast.
There should be a live-stream here

ULA's stream is here

Edit: the livestream is on. Still about t - 40 minutes.

Interesting commentary. This Atlas is an expendable rocket and reportedly this configuration's list price is about $135 million. Maybe more, since the Air Force loves to order extra options. So $135 million is just the base price.

Fresh off the launch net and reported on the stream: "Off-scale" temperature reading on second stage engine. The engineers of the anomaly team are meeting (virtually) on the anomaly-net to discuss it.

Update: the anomaly team says that there is significant evidence that the offending reading is merely an instrumentation issue and other sensors show the engine is at the correct temperature. So the anomaly team says ok to proceed.

Go/no-go poll underway. All boards green, launch director says go for launch.

T-3 minutes and counting.

Atlas is pressurizing for flight.

Hold! Hold! Hold! T - 46 seconds.

Recycling to T - 4 minutes and holding. Unclear what the problem is.

ULA says cause is under investigation.

Something about a red-line condition exceeded on the Atlas. Something about a hydraulic system. Fragments of information coming from the ULA net.

Hydraulic system was part of the ground pad infrastructure, not part of the rocket, per Tory Bruno (ULA boss). Engineers still assessing whether they can proceed.

Problem is in an electronic controller card. According to the launch net they turned it off and on again and it worked! (Engineering is easy! That's how I fix electronics too!) So it sounds like they are going to take another shot at it starting at T - 7.5 minutes.

Standing by for another go/no-go poll.

ULA go. Range go. Anomaly team go. Launch director go. So the launch is go again.

T - 1 minute

40 seconds

20 seconds

It's off! Beautiful launch

Solid rocket separation

Fairing separation

Stage separation.

Good second stage start

It's a military communications satellite headed for geosynchronous orbit, so it will be some time before the mission is complete (like 5 hours) but the launch phase went perfectly, apart from some hiccups that delayed things.

Space Force logo on the side of the payload fairing (ULA photo)

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ULA photo

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Interesting fact: there are four active launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (ULA has this one, and SpaceX uses another one for Falcon 9's. In addition to the four, there are two spaceX landing pads which are still technically launch pads but rebuilt as landing pads.

Plus two active pads at next door Kennedy Space Center which belongs to nasa.

Photo from the ULA stream

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