Yesterday afternoon after a six week delay the United Launch Alliance Atlas V streaked into the sky to deploy the National Reconnaissance Office secret spy payload.
There was a thick sea mist which had been present all day hanging over the launch complex, but this posed no threat to the launch. As the countdown proceeded all stations reported GO FOR LAUNCH.
After a built in hold at T-4 minutes the countdown was picked up again and the seconds ticked away whit a green launch board until just before T-0 the main RD-180 engine roared into life. The rocket was held down for a couple of seconds as the booster built up to full thrust. Finally the hold-downs were released and the Atlas 5 soared into the sky.
Immediately after lift-off the rocket was shrouded in the sea mist, but we were able to follow it via infra-red cameras on a perfect flight. The main Atlas V booster powered the rocket towards orbit for just over 4 minutes at which point the booster engine was cutoff, and thrusters were fired to separate the Atlas V from the Centaur upper stage. This was followed by the ignition of the Centaur’s RL10 engine and the jettison of the payload fairing.
As with all the NROL missions the launch entered a news blackout to protect the secrecy of the deployment of the payload immediately after the payload fairing jettison.
However as a bonus the mission also carried a secondary payload: 11 cubsats shared the ride into space and were deployed after the main payload had been successfully placed in orbit. These cubsats allow universities to place experiments in space at a low cost.
The following is an edited version of the ULA Launch video:
Launch pictures and the full press release from United Launch Alliance follows: