Atlas 5 rocket launches two Space Force satellites for cutting-edge technology testing


A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket propelled two Space Force satellites into orbit Tuesday in a billion-dollar mission featuring a variety of high-tech payloads, including nuclear detonation detonations and a NASA high speed laser communication.

Also on board was a joint NASA-US Naval Research Laboratory ultraviolet telescope to help scientists learn to predict solar storms that release torrents of charged particles that can damage spacecraft electronics and expose astronauts to high levels. radiation.

Powered by a first stage of the Russian RD-180 engine and five strap-on solid propellant thrusters, the Atlas 5 came to life at 5:17 a.m. EST and moved away from pad 409 of the Cape Canaveral Space Station at the top of ‘a brilliant jet of flaming exhaust.

Two days late due to a propellant leak from the ground system, the launch was delayed by just over an hour on Tuesday due to high winds aloft. But conditions improved enough as the morning wore on to allow for takeoff and the Atlas 5 put on a spectacular pre-dawn spectacle, lighting up the Space Coast as it roared east over the sea. ‘Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlas 5’s Centaur second stage reached its preliminary orbit approximately 10½ minutes after takeoff. Two more shots from its Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine were scheduled over seven hours to place the space test program’s satellites in a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator.

At such “geosynchronous” altitudes, satellites take 24 hours to complete an orbit and thus appear motionless in the sky, allowing 24-hour communications with fixed antennas on the ground.

The Space Test Program 3 – STP-3 – mission cost $ 1.14 billion, officials said, and consists of two satellites built by Northrop Grumman carrying several instruments and experimentation packages.

The STPSat-6 satellite carries nine experiments, including the NASA Laser Communication Relay Demonstration, or LCRD, and nuclear detonation sensors provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The second satellite is an innovative hitchhiker known as LDPE-1, a low cost carrier for small instruments and sensors that can be quickly added to flights with excess payload capacity. The satellite carries several experimental payloads and will operate on its own for one to three years.

NASA has high hopes for the laser communication relay demonstration, using two telescopes on the STPSat-6 satellite to send and receive data at high speed via infrared laser links to ground stations in California and Hawaii.

An experimental NASA communication system aboard the STPSat-6 satellite launched Tuesday will ultimately be tested with a terminal onboard the International Space Station, using infrared laser light to send data back at high speed to Earth and vice versa. The technology shows promise for accelerating communications with spacecraft in Earth orbit and deep space. (Credit: NASA via CBS)

Coded laser light can transmit 10 to 100 times more data than radio systems currently used by spacecraft in low earth orbit, on board the International Space Station, and in distant space probes across the solar system.

To put that into perspective, NASA says it would take about nine weeks for a spacecraft orbiting Mars to return a full map of the Red Planet using current radio technology. An optical communication system could do it in about nine days.

This is the good news. The bad news is that unlike radio waves, infrared laser light cannot penetrate cloud cover and a generally clear sky is required. NASA’s LCRD experiment will use two clear-sky sites in Hawaii and California to test the system’s ability to return data under different atmospheric conditions.

NASA plans to later launch a terminal to the International Space Station that will send data to the ground via the LRCD payload and vice versa. Ultimately, laser systems could be used during distant space missions to speed up data transmission.

“In the future, you’re going to see us launch a payload aboard the Psyche mission that will go into deep space to (study) an asteroid orbiting between Jupiter and Mars,” said Badri Younes, deputy chief of communications. NASA Space and Navigation.

“Why are we doing this? Because optical communication is so essential to the evolution of our space communication and navigation capabilities … If we are to continue to evolve and continue to satisfy user appetites for more bandwidth and more data, we must move on. to the optical domain. It provides huge bandwidth.

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