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Satellite Reaches Orbit After Launch from Vandenberg AFB

Altas V rocket ferries latest Landsat payload into space

Scroll to the bottom to view a video of the launch.

An Atlas V rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday, and successfully placed a NASA satellite into orbit .

The weather cooperated – with clear, blue skies above Lompoc – and the mission had no technical issues leading up to the launch, according to launch control.

The mission got permission to launch at 9:55 a.m. and the rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3 at 10:02 a.m., right on schedule.

By midday, officials had confirmed that the satellite had successfully separated from the rocket and powered up.

Launch control reported that everything was operating normally.

NASA streamed the pre-launch preparations and launch live with cameras on the ground at Vandenberg and even on-board cameras to show the rocket’s flight after liftoff.

The Landsat satellite successfully detached from the Atlas V rocket around 11:20 a.m. Monday.

NASA assistant launch director Tim Dunn said the solar array deployed – so the satellite has power – which was the main event since separation.

“Things could not have gone better today,” he said.

The payload is part of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor manmade and natural changes in the Earth’s landscape. This satellite is the eighth in the Landsat series, continuing a program that’s been gathering information since 1972, according to NASA.

The satellite’s observation will be critical for areas like energy and water management, forest monitoring, human and environmental health, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture, according to NASA and the USGS, which jointly manage the program.

The Atlas V rocket “absolutely performed beautifully” and the centaur boosters also performed well, Dunn said.

The satellite is seen soaring into the blue sky Monday from a yard in Goleta. (Robert Bernstein photo)
The satellite is seen soaring into the blue sky Monday from a yard in Goleta. (Robert Bernstein photo)

After the separation, the mission control room erupted into cheers and NASA administrator Charles Bolden thanked the team, which has overseen two launches in 12 days – on opposite coasts.

Dunn and launch director Omar Baez were on opposite sides of the base to oversee the launch – Baez with senior management at the northern end with United Launch Alliance, and Dunn with the engineering team on the southern end of the base.

“We’re all thrilled with what we now have on orbit with LDCM,” Dunn said.

He also gave a shout-out to a Lompoc high school student who drew a picture of the Atlas V rocket and wished the launch team luck, which was hanging on the wall of the remote launch control building Monday morning.

“We were really moved when we saw this,” Dunn said. It makes everyone glad to inspire people to science, technology, engineering and mathematics career paths, he added.

NASA has not launched an Atlas V rocket for a NASA mission from Vandenberg since December 1999, according to Vernon Thorp, program manager for NASA missions. It has, however, helped launch them for other customers in that time.

“An Atlas V NASA launch is a rare occasion out here at Vandenberg,” he said during a pre-launch chat with George Diller, the launch commentator.

The boosters used up all their propellants four minutes after liftoff, at which point the booster engine shut off, Thorp said.

After that, the Atlas V rocket separated from them, and the centaur main engines made three main burns for the mission.

These burns are precisely timed to get the satellite onto the right orbit and correct position. The engines then have to be maneuvered to avoid hitting satellites or anything else.

The Atlas V rocket itself has 48,860 gallons of liquid oxygen and 35,500 gallons of highly-refined kerosene fuel, according to launch control.

The payload needs 60 minutes of continuous sunlight after separation from the launch booster engines, so the trajectory had to be carefully mapped for that, NASA mission manager Bruce Reid said before the launch.

This is the second NASA launch with a satellite payload within two weeks, which is a testament to the professionalism and work done by NASA and United Launch Alliance, Thorp said. NASA launched an Atlas V rocket with a communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 30.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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