A Midsummer Night’s Launch

A Delta IV rocket lifts the third and fourth GSSAP satellites into the night sky. (Photo: United Launch Alliance, LLC)

This launch, very early Friday morning, may have seemed like a dream to some, but it was real, and spectacular, as the Delta IV Medium vehicle with two solid strap-on rocket motors lit up the Florida skies with the second launch for the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP).

This launch occurred on the first attempt, unlike the previous GSSAP launch back in July 2014, which required five attempts, due to ground system issues and then persistent weather problems. Dave Stephens, the Aerospace mission integration manager, remarked, “I’d much rather stay up all night and launch the first time rather than having to go through five attempts. In the end though, the only thing that matters is having successfully delivered another very important national security asset to its intended orbit.”

As has been widely reported about this once highly secretive program, the GSSAP satellites provide space situational awareness data for the tracking and characterization of resident space objects and greatly enhance our ability to understand what goes on in the geosynchronous orbit regime.

This launch was also notable as it was the last one in the tenure of Dr. Wanda Austin, who was at the Cape to witness the launch. Remarking on her perfect record of launch success during her time as CEO, “It’s not due to me—it’s the hard work by the entire team that makes this record of success possible,” she said. “Most people don’t realize how much work goes into making things look this easy, but I’m confident you all have a great team and great processes in place to continue this success in the future.”

Editor’s Note: Randy Kendall is Aerospace vice president of Space Launch Operations. 

—Randy Kendall