ULA’s Atlas 5 launches experimental US Space Force missile warning satellite
The $1.1 billion USSF-12 mission soared into geosynchronous Earth orbit
WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched the USSF-12 mission for the US Space Force on July 1. The rocket lifted off at 7:15 p.m. Eastern Time from Space Launch Complex-41 at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The $1.1 billion USSF-12 mission in geosynchronous Earth orbit carried two satellites: the Wide Field-of-View (WFOV) Missile Warning spacecraft for the US Space Force and a shaped payload adapter ring with six classified small satellite experiments for the DoD Space Test Program. .
This was the 94th mission for the Atlas 5 rocket. The vehicle’s first stage was powered by an RD-180 engine and four solid rocket boosters, and the Centaur upper stage by a Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine. To encapsulate the satellites, ULA used a 5.4 meter diameter payload fairing manufactured by Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space).
The USSF-12 was originally scheduled to fly in April, but has been delayed for undisclosed reasons. A June 30 launch attempt was canceled due to bad weather conditions.
WFOV is a mid-size spacecraft manufactured by Millennium Space Systems with an infrared sensor payload developed by L3Harris Technologies under a 2016 contract with the US Air Force. WFOV is a test bed satellite, meaning it is not part of an operational missile warning constellation, but a stand-alone experiment.
At 1,000 kilograms, WFOV is about a quarter the size of the Space infrared system (SBIRS) spacecraft currently performing strategic and tactical missile alerts for the Department of Defense. ULA will launch the SBIRS-6 satellite at the end of July.
The WFOV satellite, equipped with a pointing sensor, will be used to test different ways of collecting and reporting missile launch data. The Space Force said the research will inform the design of future missile warning satellites. WFOV will be able to continuously monitor up to a third of the Earth’s surface.
The ring-shaped smallsat carrier payload, known as the ESPA thruster ring, was built by Northrop Grumman.
The two satellites on USSF-12 are expected to reach orbit six hours after liftoff, a trajectory requiring three Centaur engine burns. ULA used an in-flight power system to keep the WFOV satellite’s batteries running at peak throughout the six-hour flight to geosynchronous orbit.