Atlas Lifts Huge Navy Satellite to Orbit

The Atlas V stands out against the setting sun at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Photo: United Launch Alliance, LLC)

An Atlas V 551 rocket successfully launched the fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy on Friday morning, June 24, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The launch occurred at the opening of the window at 10:30:11 a.m. ET on a beautiful clear day, after a very quiet countdown operation. This countdown operation was almost the opposite of the Delta IV national security launch a few weeks ago – it couldn’t have gone smoother.

The MUOS-5 satellite is one of the largest satellites launched by the Atlas V, and is the final satellite in the MUOS constellation. The MUOS system provides 10 times more capacity than the legacy system, allowing users seamless beyond-line-of-sight communications around the world.

Augmented by five strap-on solid rocket motors, the Atlas V 551 produces almost 2.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff – even more than the much larger Delta IV Heavy, although the Delta IV Heavy can lift more mass to orbit because the three large liquid cores thrust for a longer time.

This launch also continues a remarkable pace of operations, representing one of the most active times in launch at Cape Canaveral in recent history, with four Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class launches in less than one month. It started with the Falcon 9 Thaicom launch on May 27, followed by the Delta IV national security launch on June 11, and the Falcon 9 ABS / Eutelsat on June 15. The busy summer isn’t over yet, though, with AFSPC-6, SBIRS-GEO, WGS-7, and a national security mission all in the queue for EELV over the next four months. In addition to the EELV program launches, there are also two non-national security space Atlas V launches, and up to eight Falcon 9 launches during this time.

This was the 63rd consecutive successful Atlas V launch and the 108th successful United Launch Alliance launch.

—Randy Kendall, Aerospace vice president of Space Launch Operations