Remarkable rocketcam video footage of the Oct. 8 flight a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from California has been released to show its hitchhiker cubesat payloads shooting into orbit.
The mission blasted off before dawn from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the classified NROL-55 flight for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
The video begins with the rocket’s slow climb away from the launch pad, leaving behind the billowing steam cloud.
Then comes staging, a dramatic view of the retrorockets of the first stage firing to push the spent core booster away.
Next, the Centaur upper stage lights its RL10C-1 main engine and jettisons the vehicle’s nose cone.
The subsequent portion of the launch is secret, deploying the classified NRO payload into orbit.
But the star of the video is the cubesat deployment. After finishing with the primary objectives of the flight, the Centaur ejected 13 small secondary passengers collectively known as the Government Rideshare Advanced Concepts Experiments, or GRACE. Nine were sponsored by the NRO and four were sponsored by NASA.
They were shot out of deployer boxes mounted next to the Centaur’s engine on the backside of the rocket.
“The GRACE CubeSats will perform missions demonstrating tracking technologies, software-defined radio communications and will also conduct other measurements and experiments,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.
“We are happy that ULA could play a part in bringing these nano-satellites to orbit along with the NRO payload through a cost-effective rideshare.”
See earlier NROL-55 coverage.
Our Atlas archive.