The United Launch Alliance returns to one of its two main pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday, trying to break the string of recent launch scrubs due to various issues, mostly related to terrestrial systems.
The company’s Atlas V rocket will launch from the Space Launch Complex-41 at 5:54 pm EST (22:54 UTC), which will carry the satellite to the National Observatory. The mission was named NROL-101 and its final orbit was classified. There is a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions.
The coveted Atlas V rocket has flown 85 missions since its launch in 2002, testing the new hardware with this aircraft. For the first time, the Atlas V Aerojet uses solid-rocket boosters built by Northrop Grumman rather than RocketDine. These GEM-63 boosters cost less than the booster used in the past. The United Launch Alliance plans to use the GEM-63L, an expanded version of the booster, on its Vulcan rocket, which can fly for the first time in a year or more.
The biggest question that goes into today’s launch attempt is whether the Atlas V rocket will land. The mission was originally scheduled to launch on Tuesday, but after being rolled out on Monday, the company found an issue with the environmental control system duct. It could be damaged during high winds at the launch site on Monday. The Atlas V rocket returned to the pad on Tuesday after the duct was rolled back into its hanger.
So far, so good — as of Wednesday morning, the company said everything was on track the day after for the Atlas V liftoff.
The United Launch Alliance can do that with a successful lift. The company is working hard to launch another mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, an important customer who pays a premium to bring high-dollar satellites into space.
This NROL-44 mission has scrubbed half a dozen times since late August, as it was about to launch the Delta IV heavy rocket on a nearby paddle. Most of these scrubs were caused by problems with the ground support equipment and occurred within seconds of the planned liftoff time. It is Questions arise About Aging Infrastructure at Delta Launch Site in Florida. The U.S. government has not yet set a new launch date for the mission, which it hopes to launch into space in June.
Today’s launch should start 20 minutes before the company’s webcast lift.