An 18-story tall United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket has been rolled out to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a secretive military mission. ULA, a launch provider formed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will launch the US Air Force’s 4th Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite to orbit. The SBIRS is a military surveillance satellite.
The mission is slated to liftoff during a 40-minute window opening at 7:52 PM Eastern on Friday night. You can watch live at this link or below.
The webcast begins at 7:32 PM Eastern.
The SBIRS satellite was also manufactured by aerospace veteran spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin. The sensitive and sophisticated technology utilized by SBIRS can detect missile launches earlier than its predecessors and swiftly redirect that data to missile defense networks. SBIRS satellites also provide coverage for combat missions and clandestine operations for agencies like the CIA.
The #SBIRS satellite sits atop the mighty #AtlasV rocket, seen at sunset Wednesday evening. @ulalaunch has a 40-minute window for launch starting at 7:52pm (ET) tonight (Thurs) w/ a 90% chance of favorable weather. Go Atlas, go #SBIRSgeo4! (Pics by me) pic.twitter.com/n2s8ykRoOz
— Michael Seeley (@Mike_Seeley) January 18, 2018
According to comments in Florida Today, the SBIRS is a “bell-ringer to a launch anywhere on the face of the planet,” said Director of the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate, Col. Dennis Bythewood. “Whether there be an actual launch or a false indication of a launch, the missile warning architecture is there to provide the truth data that allows us to understand what actually happened.”
United Launch Alliance already had its first launch of the year when it lofted a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg Air Force base in California last Friday. The SBIRS mission will mark ULA’s first launch of the year from its usual home, Cape Canaveral. Weather reports from the 45th Space Wing point to an 80% chance of favorable conditions during the launch window. However, it is an especially cold night on Florida’s space coast with temperatures as low as 50 degrees.
Below you’ll find an infographic from United Launch Alliance detailing the mission’s launch. A completion of the mission will mark the company’s 125th mission since being founded in 2006 and it will be the 75th flight of the Atlas V since its first in 2002.
“SBIRS, considered one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st-century demands in four national security mission areas: missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness,” says ULA in a mission readout. “The SBIRS team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system.”
Clocks are counting down to #AtlasV #SBIRS GEO Flight 4 launch. Today’s 40-minute window opens at 7:52pmEST; the live broadcast beings at 7:32pmEST. Will you be watching? https://t.co/7XwxF4LwUj pic.twitter.com/pCYP98BOfK
— ULA (@ulalaunch) January 18, 2018
Below is the technical characterization of SBIRS’s function when placed in orbit. Courtest of United Launch Aliiance:
Reliable, unambiguous, timely and accurate warning for theater and strategic missile launches.
Delivery of critical information supporting the effective operation of missile defense systems.
Ability to characterize infrared (IR) event signatures, phenomenology and threat performance data.
Delivery of comprehensive IR data to help characterize battlespace conditions. The SBIRS team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system.
Image Credits: SpaceX