File image of Centaur being hoisted atop Atlas first stage. Credit: NASA-KSC

Atlas 5 rocket preparing for its third launch of the year

Posted: February 18, 2013

After successfully carrying out two high-profile satellite launches for NASA in the opening weeks of the year, the Atlas 5 rocket program has stacked its third booster of 2013 to deploy a critical missile-warning spacecraft for the Pentagon.

The second Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous satellite, or SBIRS GEO 2 for short, will be hauled into orbit atop an Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 19.

It has been a hectic start to the year for United Launch Alliance and its Atlas 5 fleet, completing the quickest-ever pre-flight campaign in January at just 27 days from the start of stacking until liftoff of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite K on Jan. 30.

That was followed a mere 12 days later by NASA’s first Atlas 5 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California that put the Landsat Data Continuity Mission spacecraft into orbit to extend the four-decade legacy of environmental monitoring by the satellite series.

“I don’t think everyone realizes what all is involved in launching two Atlas 5s, one of the East Coast, one off the West Coast, 11.5 days apart,” said NASA launch director Tim Dunn.

“Tremendous teamwork between the NASA (Launch Services Program) team, the spacecraft teams and especially United Launch Alliance. To review all of the data, to disposition all of the data observations, just exceptional work.”

Next up, SBIRS GEO 2 will join the Air Force’s constellation of missile launch detection observatories flying 22,300 miles above Earth that provide a constant vigil to warn of incoming threats.

Read more: Spaceflight Now | Atlas Launch Report | Atlas 5 rocket preparing for its third launch of the year.

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