For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Erratic Hurricane Eta is once again threatening central Florida and the rescheduled Atlas V launch of the top secret NROL-101 spysat currently targeting Nov. 12 following Thursday’s scrub due to a ground system LOX valve issue.
Further weather delays are entirely possible – and another factor is the potential for overlap with the impending launch of NASA and Japanese astronauts on Saturday evening, Nov. 14 on the Crew-1 mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS).
The goal of the Atlas V rocket is carrying a clandestine surveillance satellite to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Eta has been upgraded to Hurricane status after frequently varying from tropical storm and depression status after careening through the Caribbean and impacting south Florida the past week.
“Due to impending weather and uncertainty related to Tropical Storm Eta, ULA is now targeting Thursday, Nov. 12, at 5:18 p.m. EST (2218 UTC) for the launch of the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, pending range approval, ULA reported Monday, Nov. 9 before Eta was upgraded to Hurricane status.
Due to impending weather and uncertainty related to Tropical Storm Eta, ULA is now targeting Thur., Nov. 12, at 5:18 p.m. EST for the launch of the #NROL101 mission for the @NatReconOfc, pending range approval.
— ULA (@ulalaunch) November 9, 2020
The weather delay followed on the heels of a late in the countdown scrub on Wednesday, Nov. 4 caused by faulty liquid oxygen (LOX) ground system control valve.
“The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V carrying the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office was scrubbed today due to an unexpected system response from remotely commanded ground system liquid oxygen valves. The team continues to analyze the system and will protect for our next launch attempt no earlier than Nov. 6,” said ULA.
“Mission Director Col. Chad Davis has declared a scrub. ULA Launch Director Tom Heter III has relayed the decision to the launch team that launch operations will not continue tonight. We will be postured for another attempt in 48 hours.”
Mission Director Col. Chad Davis has declared a scrub. ULA Launch Director Tom Heter III has relayed the decision to the launch team that launch operations will not continue tonight. We will be postured for another attempt in 48 hours. https://t.co/XwIVipKr0D
— ULA (@ulalaunch) November 4, 2020
Initially ULA was targeting Nov. 6, 8 and 11 but Eta forced a rocket rollback to the VIF vertical integration facility at pad 41 and further launch delay to at least Nov. 12.
We are targeting Wed., Nov. 11, at 5:22 p.m. EST for our next launch attempt. The issue with the remotely commanded ground system liquid oxygen valves has been resolved and the rocket and payload are healthy.
— ULA (@ulalaunch) November 6, 2020
The super-secret NROL 101 mission will launch on an Atlas V in the 531 configuration producing 1.8 million pounds of liftoff thrust
The Atlas V 531 configuration includes a Swiss made 17 ft. (5 meter) payload fairing from RUAG and stands 206 ft. (63 meters) tall.
The Atlas first stage booster for this mission is powered by the Russian made RD AMROSS RD-180 engine by NPO Energomash. Aerojet Rocketdyne provided the RL10C-1 engine for the Centaur upper stage.
Also noteworthy is that the NROL-101 mission will be the first ULA launch flying the new Northrop Grumman Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM) 63 solid rocket boosters that burn solid propellant and augment the lifting capacity of rocket’s first stage.
The new solids aid in the evolution towards eventual use on ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket under development.
The new Northrop Grumman GEM 63 solids replace the Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket motors used previously on Atlas V
“The upcoming Atlas V launches with the new motors will build flight experience in preparation for using GEM 63XLs on Vulcan Centaur’s first flight,” says ULA.
The GEM 63s measure 63 in. (1.6 meters) in diameter and 66 ft. (20.11 meters) in length. They will be ignited at the launch pad and burn for 94 seconds, each consuming 97,500 pounds (44,225.2 kg) of propellant to produce 371,550 pounds (1.6 mega-Newtons) of max thrust.
The SRBs augment the 860,200 pounds (3.83 mega-Newtons) of thrust produced by the RD-180 main engine to power the Atlas V rocket skyward. At liftoff, the combined thrust will be nearly 1.8 million pounds or 8 million mega-Newtons.
The 531 configuration launched the first three Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites for the United States Space Force and will loft a pair of C-band satellites for SES in 2022.
Ken’s Atlas V rocket photos featured at FOX 35 Orlando and WKMG CBS 6 Orlando TV News Nov 2/3/4/5/6:
This will be the 86th launch of the Atlas V rocket and the 71st Atlas V to launch from Space Launch Complex-41 in Florida. To date ULA has launched 140 times with 100 percent mission success.
This will be 141st mission for United Launch Alliance and the 29th for the NRO. It is the 86th Atlas V launch and the 4th in the 531 configuration.
Enjoy our Space UpClose photos of the Atlas V at pad 40 from the team of Ken Kremer and Jean Wright.
Watch for Ken’s on site reporting about the ULA NROL-101 launch at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about OSIRIS-REx, Commercial Crew and Artemis and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Demo-2, Starlink, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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