ULA launches first-time configuration Atlas V for the US Space Force

Today United Launch Alliance launched its first mission of 2022, and the final unflown configuration of the Atlas V rocket. Onboard were two space surveillance satellites for the US Space Force.

First launch of 2022, featuring a unique rocket

ULA doesn’t launch as much as SpaceX does, but the company has positioned itself into a prime spot for defense and interplanetary missions. Today, the joint Lockheed Martin-Boeing venture launched its Atlas V, its most popular rocket.

This configuration is unique, a 511 Atlas V. This means it uses a five meter fairing, one solid rocket motor, and one engine on the Centaur second stage. ULA affectionately names this rocket The Big Slider, for its slightly sideways takeoff due to the asymmetric thrust. The Atlas V’s seemingly endless configurations allow customers to get the best rocket for their payloads.

ULA could have up to 10 more Atlas V launches this year if all goes well. In total, there are 25 Atlas V launches before the rocket is retired, entirely replaced by the company’s Vulcan rocket.

ULA’s Atlas V carrying the USSF-8 mission shortly after liftoff. Credit: Jared Locke / Space Explored

Two payloads heading to near geostationary orbit

Onboard this mission were two payloads from the US Space Force‘s Space System Command that will be taken almost to GEO. The two payloads from the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) will watch the critical GEO orbit. Allowing the Space Force to keep track of satellites and other pieces of debris in that orbit and alert satellite operators to possible collisions.

So far, GSSAP-5 and 6 are on their way to orbit, having several more burn and coast phases left. Once the Centaur upper stage has finished its job, we will update this post.

Featured Image: Jared Locke / Space Explored

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