Do oneDue to the bad weather, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket was finally brought to life and flung away from Cape Canaveral early Sunday. She carried a non-piloted Air Force X-37B spacecraft in the air to start a secret flight.
The Russian-built RD-180 first stage of the workhorse missile came to life at 9:14 a.m.CET and gently pushed the 20-story missile away from launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Atlas 5 produced over 860,000 pounds of thrust and accelerated quickly as it consumed propellant and lost weight. He disappeared from view in a cloudy sky along a northeast trajectory.
The first stage seemed to work perfectly as it drove the vehicle out of the dense lower atmosphere, drove it down and, as expected, fell off about four and a half minutes after taking off. It was the 90th flight of an RD-180 engine.
At this point, the United Launch Alliance’s ascent commentary ended in accordance with standard practice for classified military operations, and the rest of the ascent into space was done in secrecy.
The goal of the Atlas 5 flight was to put the X-37B in orbit, one of two operated by the Pentagon’s Rapid Capabilities Office for the newly established U.S. Space Force.
The X-37B built by Boeing looks like a miniature space shuttle with delta wings, heat shield tiles and a compact payload bay. In contrast to NASA’s Space Shuttle, which was dependent on fuel cells for the orbital power supply, the X-37B has a solar system that extends from the payload bay and enables extremely long flights.
The autonomous orbiters are expected to return to Earth with runway landings at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California or at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Thean X-37B lasted about 780 days before ending in an unannounced landing on the Florida spaceport last October.
The program’s five previous flights, which started in April 2010, gave the X-37B a cumulative 7.9 year history in space that spanned more than a billion miles. The planned duration of the current mission is unknown.
While the Air Force has released no details of the mission objectives, officials lifted the veil slightly before launch on Sunday, saying that two NASA experiments were on board, one to expose a variety of materials to the space environment and one to expose them Monitor effects on seeds.
U.S. Air Force Academy students delivered a small, multi-experiment research satellite while another project is testing the technology required to convert solar energy into microwave energy that can be radiated to Earth.
Delaying the Atlas launch on Sunday forced SpaceX to postpone the planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket, which carried another batch of the company’s Starlink Internet Relay satellites, from Sunday to Monday. Rough weather associated withoff Florida’s east coast, SpaceX then requested to order an additional 24-hour delay, which postponed the Starlink launch to Tuesday at 3:19 a.m.
Had the original schedule been met, the 45th space wing, which provides tracking, telemetry and security support for all missiles fired from Cape Canaveral, would have performed the fastest turnaround for two orbit-class boosters since 1967, a dramatic double header at the weekend.
But it shouldn’t be.