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United Launch Alliance marked banner year in 2013

Posted: December 31, 2013

Launching a new spacecraft to Mars, one to survey Earth's land resources and a host of national security satellites marked a record-breaking year for United Launch Alliance in 2013.

The company, an alliance between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, conducted 11 launches in 2013, including 8 Atlas and three Delta flights. It was the most number of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle flights in a year since the program began in 2002. And 10 of the 11 launches, including every Atlas, flew on the first countdown attempt, a remarkable on-time string.

Here is a look back at the year that was:

Vehicle: Atlas 5-401
Payload: TDRS-K
Date: Jan. 30, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Advancing from the days of ground stations providing sporadic coverage of man's early exploits in space to the creation of an orbiting satellite network for constant communications, the third generation of NASA's tracking stations in the sky roared off the launch pad on Jan. 30. The Tracking and Data Relay satellite-K was successfully delivered into orbit, capping the quickest pre-flight processing flow to date for an Atlas 5.

Vehicle: Atlas 5-401
Payload: Landsat
Date: Feb. 11, 2013
Site: Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

Roaring off the launch pad to build upon a 40-year legacy of monitoring the Earth's environment from space, the latest and greatest satellite carrying the name Landsat successfully arrived in orbit on Feb. 11. The Atlas 5 rocket, making its first West Coast deployment mission for NASA, carried the Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Vehicle: Atlas 5-401
Payload: SBIRS GEO 2
Date: March 19, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Highly sophisticated infrared eyes to spot incoming enemy missiles against the United States and its allies rocketed into space March 19. The Air Force's second Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous satellite, known as SBIRS GEO 2 for short, will further upgrade the nation's surveillance network to detect and track missile launches around the globe.

Vehicle: Atlas 5-401
Payload: GPS 2F-4
Date: May 15, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

An Atlas rocket and a Global Positioning System satellite were joined together for the first time in 28 years with the successful launch on May 15. The storied history of GPS to provide precision navigation through a space-based constellation of satellites dates back to the 1970s, and Atlas rockets gave the earliest craft their lift into orbit to prove the novel concept would work. This was the first modern-day launch of a GPS bird on the Atlas 5 after Delta rockets had exclusively done the lifting for the past quarter-century.

Vehicle: Delta 4 Medium+ (5,4)
Payload: WGS 5
Date: May 24, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

With one more satellite needed in its new military communications system to extend blanket coverage over virtually the entire planet, the spacecraft to make the network's reach global was sent thundering into orbit May 24 to join the Air Force's broadening constellation serving troops, ships, drones and civilian leaders. A Delta 4 rocket successfully hauled the Wideband Global SATCOM 5 into space.

Vehicle: Delta 4 Medium+ (5,4)
Payload: WGS 6
Date: Aug. 7, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

A rocket launch funded entirely by Australia streaked to orbit Aug. 7 from Cape Canaveral in a show of international cooperation between the U.S. military and its allies. The sixth Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft was built by Boeing just like the previous five, but this satellite was paid for by Australia instead of the U.S. Air Force.

Vehicle: Delta 4 Heavy
Payload: NROL-65
Date: Aug. 28, 2013
Site: Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

One of the nation's aging optical eyes in the sky for global surveillance is set for replacement following the successful launch of a new observatory Aug. 28 atop a mighty Delta 4-Heavy rocket from California. The classified mission was known as NROL-65 for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Vehicle: Atlas 5-531
Payload: AEHF 3
Date: Sept. 18, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Forging a new constellation of ultra-secure communications satellites that will ring the globe to link the president with military forces anywhere on the planet, an Atlas 5 rocket roared to space Sept. 18 with the Advanced Ultra High Frequency 3 satellite to continue putting the pieces in place for the warfighter.

Vehicle: Atlas 5-401
Payload: MAVEN
Date: Nov. 18, 2013
Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NASA's next orbiter at Mars was sent on its interplanetary cruise from Earth to the Red Planet, a voyage of 10 months and 479 million miles. The mission of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) will probe the past of the Martian atmosphere and try to explain the current conditions on the neighboring world. An Atlas 5 sent MAVEN soaring on Nov. 18.

Vehicle: Atlas 5-501
Payload: NROL-39
Date: Dec. 5, 2013
Site: Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

A clandestine radar-imaging satellite was placed into a backwards-flying retrograde orbit from Vandenberg on Dec. 5 by an Atlas 5 in a frigid nighttime launch. The classified mission was known as NROL-39 for the National Reconnaissance Office.