ULA’s Atlas 5 Launches Experimental US Space Force Missile Warning Satellite
The $1.1 billion USSF-12 mission flew to geostationary 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 east of Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida at 7:15 PM.
The $1.1 billion USSF-12 mission to geosynchronous orbit featured two satellites: the Wide Field of View (WFOV) missile warning spacecraft for the US Space Force, and an annular payload adapter with six classified smallsat experiments. for DoD’s Space Test Program.
This was the 94th mission of the Atlas 5 rocket. The vehicle’s first stage was powered by an RD-180 engine and four solid rocket boosters, and the Centaur’s top stage by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine. To encapsulate the satellites, ULA used a 5.4-meter-diameter shell made by Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space).
USSF-12 was originally scheduled to fly in April, but was delayed for unknown reasons. A June 30 launch attempt was scrapped due to: bad weather conditions.
WFOV is a medium-sized spacecraft made by Millennium Space Systems with an infrared sensor developed by L3Harris Technologies under a 2016 contract from the United States Air Force. WFOV is a testbed satellite, meaning it is not part of an operational missile warning constellation, but a standalone experiment.
At 1,000 kilograms, the WFOV is about one-fourth the size of the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) spacecraft currently performing strategic and tactical missile alerts for the Department of Defense. ULA is launched the SBIRS-6 satellite at the end of July.
The WFOV satellite, equipped with a staring sensor, will be used to test different ways of collecting and reporting missile launch data. The Space Force said the study will inform the design of future missile warning satellites. The WFOV will be able to continuously monitor up to a third of the Earth’s surface.
The smallsat carrier’s annular payload, known as an ESPA propulsive ring, was built by Northrop Grumman.
The Space Systems Command in a press release confirmed that both satellites on USSF-12 had reached orbit six hours after launch, a trajectory that required three Centaur engine burns. ULA used an in-flight power system to keep the WFOV satellite’s batteries full during the six-hour flight to geosynchronous orbit.