United Launch Alliance Atlas V (541) delivered today to orbit classified payload for National Reconnaissance Office after launch from Vandenberg Air Force base SLC-3 launch site.
Finally Atlas V proved to be ready during final inspection before launch – this time booster caused no issues like on original launch date when ground service team found and reported problems with faulty battery. It caused decision to postpone mission for 48 hours.
Seven minutes before launch planned for 05:30 UTC Sunday morning, rocket was ready and ground service teams were waiting for final decision. At 05:25 UTC countdown was resume after The ULA launch director and NRO mission director ggave final acceptation. Unfortunately unspecified issue appeared after securing tanks before pressurization and countdown was halted and recycled to T-4′ with new launch hour: 05:49 UTC.
At 05:41 UTC tanks were already filled with fuel and oxidizer and three minutes later final approval was given. Two minutes before launch tanks were pressurized and one minute before launch emergency system was armed. Engines started at 05:49 UTC and rocket performed lift off at 05:49 UTC and started to raise over SLC-3. Fifteen seconds after launch rocket performed pitch and yaw maneuver and reached 1 Ma speed at T+35″. At T+47″ rocket reached maximal dynamic pressure point. At T+1’33” four SRB- solid boosters were cut off and released few seconds later. At T+3’35” payload fairing was jettisoned.Few seconds later small problem with receiving telemetry data from launch vehicle appeared, but according to ULA rocket was continuing flight without any problems. At this moment live broadcast was halted due the classified character of the mission.
At 07:40 UTC ULA confirmed that mission was success and payload was deployed on designated orbit. First signals from classified satellite gathering intelligence data using intercepted radio transmissions while remaining at Molniya orbit. This 3rd Gen Trumpet class spacecraft will replace previously launched older satellites. it is worth to remind that first Trumpet was deployed in 1994 and half of constellation dates back to nineties with latest satellite launched in 2014. Until now NRO place on orbit seven Trumpet satellites ( first three from first, two from second and three from third generation). Spacecrafts are using external folding mesh antennas for electronic reconnaissance; estimated weight of the Trumpet 1st Gen satellite is 6 t; no information regarding last two generations were unveiled.