This morning, the United Launch Alliance’s premiere rocket — the Atlas V — will launch a US Navy communications satellite into a high orbit above Earth. The vehicle is set to take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 10:30AM ET, but there is a 44-minute launch window if for some reason it can’t go up right away. Once in orbit, the satellite, called MUOS-5, will join a constellation of four other Navy satellites to help provide communications services to US forces all over the world.
The first flight of the Atlas V after the vehicle’s brief hiatus
This marks the first flight of the Atlas V after the vehicle’s brief hiatus from spaceflight. The last time the rocket flew was at the end of March, when it transported Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule to the International Space Station. During that flight, however, the vehicle’s main engine cut off six seconds sooner than it was supposed to. The capsule still made it to the ISS just fine, but ULA decided to postpone all upcoming Atlas V flights until the company figured out what went wrong. In June, ULA said that it had identified the cause of the issue: a strange shift in pressure caused the rocket fuel to deplete too early. Updates have since been made to the engine, and the Atlas V has been cleared to fly again.
Not only is this the first flight of the Atlas V in the past few months, the rocket needed for today’s launch is all tricked out, too. This is the Atlas V 551, the most powerful version of the rocket ULA has. Five solid rocket boosters surround the base of the vehicle, helping to provide more than 2.5 million pounds of thrust at take off. This same version of the Atlas V was used to launch NASA’s Juno spacecraft to Jupiter in 2011, as well as the space agency’s New Horizons mission to Pluto in 2006. During that launch, the powerful rocket accelerated New Horizons up to 36,000 miles per hour, making it "the fastest object to be launched from Earth."
So far, weather looks pretty good for launch. There’s an 80 percent chance that conditions will be favorable, according to Patrick Air Force Base. Coverage of the mission begins at 10:10AM ET, and you can watch the launch live above.