May 24, 2022

Atlas 5 rocket rolls to launch pad with weather satellite

United Launch Alliance rolled out an Atlas 5 rocket to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral on Monday, moving the launcher into position for liftoff Tuesday afternoon with a NOAA weather satellite destined to cover the Western United States and the Pacific Ocean.

The move began at 10:16 a.m. EST (1516 GMT) with the emergence of the Atlas 5 from its Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The 196-foot-tall (59.7-meter) Atlas 5 made the trip on top of a mobile launch platform pushed by locomotives along rail tracks leading to the launch pad. ULA confirmed the transfer was completed at 11:23 a.m. EST (1623 GMT).

Stacking of the Atlas 5 rocket began im the VIF last month, when ground crews lifted launcher’s bronze first stage on its mobile platform Jan. 31, 10 days after the previous Atlas 5 launch. ULA next installed four Northrop Grumman-built solid rocket boosters around the Atlas 5’s core stage, then raised the Centaur upper stage atop the first stage Feb. 7. The weather satellite payload was raised atop the Atlas 5 on Feb. 17.

The rocket will fly in the Atlas 5’s “541” configuration with a 5.4-meter (17.7-foot) diameter payload fairing, four strap-on boosters, and a single RL10 upper stage engine.

The two-hour launch window Tuesday, March 1, opens at 4:38 p.m. EST (2138 GMT).

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket on Space Launch Complex 41 Monday afternoon. Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now

The launch with NOAA’s GOES-T weather satellite will mark the 92nd flight of an Atlas 5 rocket since August 2002, and the eighth flight to use the “541” version, following two previous GOES satellites, NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers, and three spy satellite launches for the U.S. government.

The GOES-T satellite, with a launch weight of more than 11,000 pounds (5 metric tons) fully fueled, was built by Lockheed Martin and arrived in Florida from its Colorado factory in November. Technicians at Astrotech tested the satellite to make sure it survived the cross-country journey, then loaded liquid propellants into the spacecraft for its main engine.

After three burns with the Centaur’s RL10 engine, the Atlas 5 will deploy the GOES-T satellite in an elongated orbit ranging between 5,515 miles (8,876 kilometers) and 21,925 miles (35,286 kilometers). The orbit will be tilted at an angle of 9.4 degrees to the equator.

GOES-T’s own propulsion system will circularize the satellite’s orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator. At that altitude, in geosynchronous orbit, the satellite’s movement will match the Earth’s rotation, giving the spacecraft a constant view of one hemisphere.

NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites take regularly-updated images of clouds and storm systems, providing real-time views of tropical cyclones and severe weather. The first GOES satellite launched in 1975, and NOAA maintains two operational GOES spacecraft — one covering the Pacific and Western United States, and another over the East Coast, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean.

An Atlas 5 rocket stands on its launch pad Monday at Cape Canaveral. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

NOAA’s weather satellites in polar orbit gather data for medium and long-term forecasts.

GOES-T will be renamed GOES-18 after launch, when it will begin a nearly year-long series of checkouts and tests before NOAA declares the satellite operational. The first weather images from GOES-18 could come down in May, and data from the new satellite could be provided to National Weather Service forecasters on a provisional basis as soon as July, said Pam Sullivan, director of NOAA’s GOES-R program.

The GOES-R series is NOAA’s newest generation of geostationary weather satellites, and GOES-T is the third of four satellites in the group, following launches of GOES-R and GOES-S — now named GOES-16 and GOES-17 — in 2016 and 2018.

By early 2023, GOES-18 will move into the GOES West position to take over from GOES-17, which NOAA will transition to a backup role in the fleet. GOES-16 will remain the active GOES East satellite.

Additional photos of the Atlas 5 rocket on the launch pad Monday are posted below.

Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now

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