Quick Turnaround on SBIRS Launch Tests Flight Team

An Atlas V streaks through a chilly Florida evening sky carrying the SIBRS GEO-4 satellite to orbit. (Photo: United Launch Alliance, LLC)

This past Friday night, on a chilly Florida evening (we don’t get to say that very often), an Atlas V rocket with one strap-on solid rocket motor, successfully launched the SBIRS-GEO Flight 4 mission into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This flight required the team to make a quick turnaround, coming just seven days after a Delta IV national security launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Interestingly, it was also almost exactly one year — 364 days — after the previous SBIRS GEO Flight 3.

After the first launch attempt last week was scrubbed on Thursday due to a problem with a ground system valve, the crews worked through the night to troubleshoot the problem and be ready for Friday.  Having resolved the valve problem, the countdown on Friday ran like clockwork, with virtually no issues during the count and a similarly flawless flight.

The coast-to-coast one-week turnaround set a new standard for United Launch Alliance flights in the era of common avionics between Delta and Atlas rockets, where there are many more common crossover items to evaluate in between launches.  As Col. Rob Bongiovi, the new Launch Enterprise SPO Director, commented at the post-flight quick-look review after the launch —  “time after time, we put this team in extremely demanding positions — and you come through every time, without fail — my congratulations to the whole team!”

This launch was the 75th successful Atlas V flight and the 125th successful ULA mission since its formation in 2006.

—Randolph L Kendall