United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket delivered for the fifth time in 2017 today to orbit classified spacecraft for National Reconnaissance Office after flawless launch from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral.
This launch was preceded by four not successful launch attempts which took place on October 5th, 6th, 7th and 14th. First two launch attempts were interrupted by poor weather conditions, for the third time ground service team was informed about faulty telemetry transmitter in Atlas V and launch was postponed to 14th October. It is worth to remind that it was first time in the history of Atlas V that rocket was not launched during first three attempts. Yesterday weather forecasts were also not favorable and ULA decided to move launch for today.
Today at 07:28 UTC Atlas V in 421 configuration started to raise over SLC-41 with top secret satellite under 4 m x 12.2 m payload fairing; rocket set its course to south-east. Both SRB boosters were supporting core stage until 91 second of flight (44 seconds after passing 1 Ma). SRBs separated at T+2’9″ from core of the Atlas V. Core powered by Energomash RD-180 was cut off at T+4’10″and separated at T+4’16”. Ten seconds later Centaur upper stage with single RL-10C begun its first burn and released eight seconds later payload fairing. As rest of the mission was classified we can only assume taking under consideration fact that payload is probably data relay SDS Quasar satellite operating from GEO orbit, that Centaur performed at least two burns. Satellite was deployed probably on expected orbit of 1100 km x 35800 km inclined at 18.7 degrees, but again these are only assumptions based on comparing previous NRO missions with Atlas V (421).
United Launch Alliance in the official statement confirmed that mission was success.
As last time Atlas V (421) was used during NROL-61 mission in July 2016, it is possible that payload is also similar. This time also it is possible that NRO delivered to orbit one from QUASAR SDS (Satellite Data System) data relay satellite. In such case it would be second from fourth generation of QUASAR satellites operating on orbit since 1976. SDS spacecrafts are retransmitting data from optical and radar reconnaissance satellites to ground control service helping to short time between taking picture to receiving it by analysts on the ground.