Flawless ULA Atlas V Launch Delivers STP-3 Payloads Direct to GSO for National Security and NASA on Longest Mission: Photos

Flawless ULA Atlas V Launch Delivers STP-3 Payloads Direct to GSO for National Security and NASA on Longest Mission: Photos
GO STP-3! A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program (STP)-3 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command and NASA lifted off on Dec. 7, 2021 at 5:19 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, FL –  A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launched overnight before dawn Tuesday, Dec. 7 on a flawless mission delivering the $1 Billion STP-3 space technology demonstration mission including two co-manifested satellites facilitating both U.S national security with a nuclear detonation detection payload and NASA high speed communications research to geosynchronous orbit (GSO) on the longest mission for the venerable rocket to date.

ULA successfully delivered STP-3 mission direct to GSO about 22,000 miles (36,000 km) above Earth with 2 satellites STPSat6 & LDPE-1 hosting 9 space tech demo payloads U.S. Space Force, NASA & NNSA  concluding some 7 hours after launch.

Following two back-to-back scrubs when a leak of RP-1 propellant was discovered in the ground support equipment at pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, the Atlas V also encountered further delays this morning when excessive high velocity upper level winds forced ULA officials to delay the launch another 75 minutes into the two hour launch window.

At last the winds calmed sufficiently after good natured prodding from ULA CEO Tory Bruno requesting the space community to ‘think calm thoughts’ – and the GO was given to the team to proceed and resume the countdown

Liftoff of ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the U.S. Space Force finally took place predawn at 5:19 a.m. EST (1019 GMT) Tues., Dec. 7  from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

GO STP-3! A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program (STP)-3 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command and NASA lifted off on Dec. 7, 2021 at 5:19 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com

The Atlas V thundered off pad 41 with 2.6 million pounds of combined first stage thrust from 5 SRB’s and the dual chamber dual nozzle RD-180 engine.

The resulting light flash produced was overwhelming turning day into night creating an artificial inaugural sunrise about an hour and a hal;f early – to the absolute delight of all spectators ringing the Florida Space Coast

STP3 super bright streak to GSO! ULA AtlasV propelled by 5 solids and 2.6 mil pound thrust in stunning predawn liftoff Dec. 7, 2021 at 5:19 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station – with flames reflecting in Space Force waters for Space Force & NASA space tech demo mission. Long duration single image fisheye lens – from Loop Road CCSFS. KSC VAB water reflecting (l), rocket/sat facilities (C), media photogs (r). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com

“United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V has delivered two satellites into geosynchronous orbit for advanced technology research. Success #147 for ULA!”  ULA confirmed.

Both spacecraft, STPSat-6 and LDPE-1, will be delivered to geosynchronous orbit – via a direct injection rather than delivered to LEO for orbit raising

“Today’s launch is a testament to why the ULA team continually serves as our nation’s most reliable and successful launch provider for our country’s most critical space assets,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs.

“Thank you to our U.S. Space Force, NASA and industry teammates for their tremendous partnership in successfully delivering STP-3 to orbit.”

The payload for the launch of the ULA Atlas V is the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) and includes research, test and operational satellites and payloads for both the Space Force as well as NASA.

The mission is the longest to date lasting over seven hours from launch to payload separation during the rockets ascent – which required development of a new longer lasting battery – the In-Flight Power System (IFPS) – to keep the batteries on the payloads fully charged.

Watch this cool ULA launch video:

“STP-3’s successful launch and acquisition is a remarkable achievement for the entire team,” said Col. Brian Denaro, Program Executive Officer for Space Development.

“This mission advances military and civil experimentation objectives by demonstrating next generation space technologies in nuclear detonation detection, space situational awareness, weather, and communication by providing critical data needed to reduce risk for future space programs. It’s the perfect example of how SSC is collaborating to bring exciting new space capabilities to the Space Force, our mission partners, and the warfighters we support.”

The STP-3 payload manifest is comprised of two co-manifested satellites.  The primary spacecraft is STP Satellite STPSat-6 and the rideshare spacecraft is the Long Duration Propulsive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) or LDPE-1.

“STP-3’s successful launch and acquisition is a remarkable achievement for the entire team,” said Col. Brian Denaro, Program Executive Officer for Space Development.

“This mission advances military and civil experimentation objectives by demonstrating next generation space technologies in nuclear detonation detection, space situational awareness, weather, and communication by providing critical data needed to reduce risk for future space programs. It’s the perfect example of how SSC is collaborating to bring exciting new space capabilities to the Space Force, our mission partners, and the warfighters we support.”

Fire & Fury UpClose for STP-3 : 2.6 mil lb thrust exhaust spewed from most powerful ULA Atlas V 551 configuration with dual nozzle RD180 & 5 SRB 1st stage at 5:19 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Soaring past crew access arm pad 41. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com

For the U.S. Space Force the two spacecraft “matures technology and reduces future space program risk for the Department of the Air Force and the U.S. Space Force by advancing warfighting capabilities in the areas of nuclear detonation detection, space domain awareness (SDA), weather, and communication.”  See rocket graphic below.

The Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System 3 (SABRS-3) is an operational mission from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) involving nuclear detonation detection that will enhance US capabilities when adversaries set off a nuclear test blast

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program STP-3 mission for U.S. Space Force and NASA lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 5:19 a.m. EDT on Dec. 7, 2021. Credit: Jean Wright / Space UpClose

STP-3 hosts two NASA payloads: NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and the NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph (UVSC) Pathfinder.

NASA’s $320 million Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will showcase the unique capabilities of optical communications.

LCRD will demonstrate NASA’s first two-way laser relay communications system, sending and receiving data over invisible infrared lasers, which can enable data rates 10 to 100 times greater than radio frequency systems traditionally used by spacecraft.

“This launch introduces an exciting new technology for space missions,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.

“Demonstrating this innovative way of communicating with spacecraft will open the door for this technology to expand the horizons of future space missions.”

Conceptual image of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) payload transmitting optical signals. LCRD, NASA’s first end-to-end laser relay system, will operate for at least two years and provide data rates 10 to 100 times higher than traditional radio frequency systems. Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Most NASA missions use radio frequency communications to send data to and from spacecraft since the beginning of the space age.

“However, as space missions generate and collect more data, the need for enhanced communications capabilities becomes paramount,” says NASA.

“Optical communications will provide significant benefits for missions, including bandwidth increases of 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems.”

For example a global map of Mars would require about 9 weeks to transmit back to Earth using conventional radio frequency communications – where it would take around 9 days or so or less using laser or optical communications.

“NASA’s LCRD will demonstrate the benefits of space-to-ground laser communications, also called optical communications. LCRD will send and receive data at a rate of 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. At that speed, you could download a movie in under a minute. Laser communications systems are smaller, lighter, and use less power than radio frequency systems. These advantages, combined with laser communications’ higher bandwidth, can advance robotic and human exploration across the solar system.”

LCRD optical communications tests will also be done with the International Space Station (ISS) in late 2022 or early 2023 after communication hardware is shipped up to the ISS sometime in 2022, NASA official told Space UpClose.

 

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program (STP)-3 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command and NASA lifted off on Dec. 7, 2021 at 5:19 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com

The ULA Atlas V is launching in its most powerful configuration – the 551 version with the maximum liftoff thrust amounting to approx. 2.6 million pounds of sea-level liftoff thrust.

The two stage Atlas V 551 configuration rocket includes a 5.4 meter payload fairing and stands 196 ft. (59.7 m) tall.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program STP-3 mission for U.S. Space Force and NASA lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 5:19 a.m. EDT on Dec. 7, 2021. Credit: Jean Wright / Space UpClose

The Atlas first stage booster is powered by the Russian made RD AMROSS RD-180 single engine with dual thrust chambers and nozzles providing 860,200 lb sea level liftoff thrust.  It is fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOX).

The booster is augmented with five strap on Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM) 63 solid rocket boosters (SRBs) provided by Northrop Grumman and provide 371,550 lb thrust each.

Aerojet Rocketdyne provided the RL10C-1 engine for the Centaur upper stage with generates 22,900 lb thrust.  Fueled by LOX and LH2 (liquid hydrogen).

 

 

 

UpClose nose cone and logo view on ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the U.S. Space Force and NASA targeting launch on Dec. 6, 2021 at 4:04 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com

Overall this marks the 90th Atlas V launch

To date ULA has launched 147 times with 100 percent mission success.

Watch Ken’s commentary at WFTV ABC 9 Orlando about the ULA Atlas V launch Dec 5 of STP-3 space technology demonstration satellite with US Space Force & NASA payloads in particular for nuclear blast detonation detection:

https://www.wftv.com/news/local/ula-rolls-out-atlas-v-rocket-ahead-launch-set-this-weekend/JRO64EVRSRHVPM3YHVWZ2F2MJM/

Dr. Ken Kremer of Space UpClose interviewed on WFTV ABC 9 Orlando about ULA STP-3 launch on Dec. 2, 2021 and December’s upcoming busy manifest of 5 rocket launches from Florida Space Coast. Screenshot: WFTV ABC/Space UpClose

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about National Security missions, SpaceX  Starlink , SpaceX Crew and Cargo Dragons, Artemis, SLS, Orion and NASA missions, DART,  Lucy Asteroid mission, Blue Origin and Space Tourism, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2 & 3, ISS, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, NRO spysats and national security missions 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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Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

Please consider supporting Ken’s work by purchasing his photos and/or donating at Patreon:

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Photographers set remote cameras: ULA Atlas V rocket for Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for U.S. Space Force and NASA targets launch on Dec. 7, 2021 from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credit: Jean Wright/SpaceUpClose.com

 

 

STP-3 mission rocket graphic of Atlas V rocket components and two payloads; STP Satellite (STPSat)-6 and the rideshare spacecraft is the Long Duration Propulsive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) (LDPE) – 1. Credit: ULA

 

ULA Atlas V STP-3 flight profile graphic. Credit: ULA

 

UpClose nose cone and logo view on ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the U.S. Space Force and NASA targeting launch on Dec. 7, 2021 at 4:04 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credit: Jean Wright/SpaceUpClose.com

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Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. 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. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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