posted February 27, 2012
The most powerful version of the Atlas V ever flown roared off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 on the evening of Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, carrying the first Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The Atlas’ five solid rocket motors and its RD-180 liquid-fueled main engine all ignited as the launch window opened at 5:15 p.m. EST, lifting the towering 206-foot rocket skyward atop a pillar of flame and smoke.
Two earlier attempts to launch MUOS-1 had been scrubbed during the final minutes and seconds of countdown.
The Atlas V carried the 15,000-pound Navy communications satellite in its 551 configuration, meaning the satellite was covered with a five-meter diameter fairing, the booster was augmented with five strap-on solid rocket motors, and there was one RL-10 engine on the Centaur upper stage. Incidentally, the MUOS-1 launch was the 200th mission for the Centaur, which has flown in a variety of configurations since it was first used in 1962.
The payload was the heaviest ever put into orbit by an Atlas launch vehicle.
Ray Johnson, vice president of Space Launch Operations, noted that this was a particularly significant mission for Aerospace because it is the first Atlas V 551 supported by the company. Two other Atlas V 551 launches have carried NASA planetary missions — one to Pluto in 2006 and one to Jupiter last August.
“All indications are that this was a very clean mission,” Johnson said from the Cape on Friday night. “The system performed perfectly. I certainly want to congratulate the entire Atlas V team on this outstanding success.”