June the 20th saw the launch of a US National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite on top of a ULA Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V was in the 501 configuration: 5M payload fairing, no solid rocket boosters, and a single Centaur second stage.
The Atlas V carrying the NROL-38 communications satellite was originally scheduled to launch on the 20th June, but was pulled forwards a couple of days to the 18th. However when the rocket was rolled out to the launch pad the team identified an issue with an environmental control system duct that failed near its connection to the Mobile Launch Platform.
This resulted in the rocket being rolled back to the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) where the duct was removed and replaced. This put the launch back to the original date of the 20th June. It was getting a bit close as the weather was starting to change and a front was moving over which would have prevented any launch attempts in the coming days so it was the 20th or a long delay.
The morning of the 20th arrived with medium cloud coverage and winds that violated the launch commit criteria, but as we wound down to T-0 the clouds dispersed a bit and the winds dissipated. At T-4 the launch director polled the various stations for a GO-NOGO status, everybody was GO for launch and the mission director gave the launch director permission to launch.
Continue for the rest of the launch report and the launch image gallery:
The terminal countdown ran smoothly with liftoff occurring right at the opening of the launch window at 8:28. Seconds before the Atlas V main engine was ignited a deluge of water sprayed the exit of the flame trench. The main engine started with the rocket held down. As the engine powered up to full boost the signature exhaust plume was spewed from the flame trench. Finally the hold-downs were released and the Atlas V with the NROL-38 satellite slowly rose into the skies.
The air was heavy and even from just 5 miles from the launch pad the view was hazy and flat. It was a good thing that we had our cameras on the launch pad to capture the liftoff of the rocket. We had a number of cameras on the launch pad with different views.
One of the cameras was taking images of the umbilical connections between the Atlas V and the launch tower. We have a series of 4 images taken just as the rocket was taking off showing the connectors releasing and breaking away from the body.