Watch live Tuesday: Atlas V rocket to launch SBIRS GEO-5 missile detection satellite, ,

In Space by

Update for 12:40 p.m. EDT: United Launch Alliance has postponed Monday’s launch attempt to no earlier than Tuesday (May 18) at 1:31 p.m. EDT (1731 GMT), after engineers were unable to troubleshoot a problem with the rocket’s liquid oxygen supply system in time.

The United Launch Alliance will launch an Atlas V rocket carrying a new missile warning satellite for the U.S. Space Force today (May 17) and you can watch it live here. Liftoff is at 1:42 p.m. EDT (1742 GMT).

The Atlas V will launch the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit 5 satellite (SBIRS GEO Flight 5) into orbit from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. ULA’s launch webcast will begin about 20 minutes before liftoff. You can also watch directly from ULA on YouTube here and get live launch updates here.


A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 421 rocket will launch the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO) Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). Liftoff will occur from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. Following liftoff, the Atlas V rocket will deliver the fifth SBIRS satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. The mission also includes two multimanifest satellite vehicles.

SBIRS GEO-5 consists of a network of GEO satellites and HEO payloads that provide persistent, infrared surveillance – as well as a sophisticated ground control system that manages that data – to support missile warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness and technical intelligence. Equipped with scanning and staring infrared sensors, the SBIRS spacecraft continue to serve as the tip of the spear for global missile warning as ballistic missile threats proliferate around the world.

SBIRS GEO-5, the fifth SBIRS spacecraft built by Lockheed Martin, but the first military space satellite built on the company’s modernized LM 2100 Combat Bus – an enhanced space vehicle that provides even greater resiliency and cyber-hardening against growing threats, as well as improved spacecraft power, propulsion and electronics.

SMC’s Multi Manifest Office, in partnership with the United States Air Force Academy, will be flying the EZ-3 and -4 flight systems on the SBIRS GEO-5 mission. This multi-manifest mission will support the deployment of two 12U Multi-Manifest Satellite Vehicles, TDO-3 and -4, prior to the deployment of the SBIRS GEO-5 satellite. A multi-manifest mission set allows more capability to be placed on orbit, ultimately providing more critical capabilities to the warfighter.

Launch Vehicle

Payload Fairing (PLF)

The SBIRS satellite is encapsulated in the 13.7-ft (4-m) diameter extra extended payload fairing (XEPF). The XEPF is a bisector (twopiece shell) fairing consisting of aluminum skin/ stringer construction with vertical split-line longerons. The vehicle’s height with the XEPF is approximately 194 ft (59.1 m).


The Centaur second stage is 10 ft (3 m) in diameter and 41.5 ft (12.6 m) long. Its propellant tanks are constructed of pressure-stabilized, corrosion resistant stainless steel. Centaur is a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen- (cryogenic-) fueled vehicle. It uses a single RL10C-1-1 engine producing 23,825 lb (106 kilo-Newtons) of thrust. The cryogenic tanks are insulated with a combination of helium-purged insulation blankets, radiation shields, and spray-on foam insulation (SOFI). The Centaur forward adapter (CFA) provides the structural mountings for the fault-tolerant avionics system and the structural and electronic interfaces with the spacecraft.


The Atlas V booster is 12.5 ft (3.81 m) in diameter and 106.5 ft (32.5 m) long. The booster’s tanks are structurally stable and constructed of isogrid aluminum barrels, spun-formed aluminum domes and intertank skirts. Atlas booster propulsion is provided by the RD-180 engine system (a single engine with two thrust chambers). The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen, and delivers 860,200 lb (3.83 mega-Newtons) of thrust at sea level. Two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) generate the additional power required at liftoff, each providing 348,500 lb (158,076 kg) of thrust. The Atlas V booster is controlled by the Centaur avionics system which provides guidance, flight control and vehicle sequencing functions during the booster and Centaur phases of flight.

After a week of delays, NASA will again attempt to launch a Black Brant XII sounding rocket from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia on Saturday (May 15), and you can watch it live online or in person.

Observers in the eastern U.S. may have an opportunity to see a colorful light show following the rocket’s liftoff, weather permitting. The sounding rocket will release nontoxic barium vapor that will form two visible, green-violet clouds in the evening sky. The clouds will remain visible for about 30 seconds, according to NASA, but they will be more difficult to see earlier in the launch window while the twilight sky is still bright.

Liftoff is scheduled to occur during a 40-minute launch window that opens at 8:10 p.m. EDT (0010 May 16 GMT). You can watch the mission live in the window above beginning about 20 minutes before liftoff, courtesy of NASA Wallops, or directly via the Wallops IBM video site.

Full story: NASA rocket launch may spark visible light show over US East Coast and Bermuda tonight

The map on the left shows where observers may be able to see the launch of NASA’s Black Brant XII sounding rocket from Wallops Island, weather permitting. On the right is a photo of a four-stage Black Brant XII sounding rocket. (Image credit: NASA)

UPDATE 5/13: The launch of the Black Brant XII sounding rocket carrying the KiNET-X payload has been postponed to no earlier than 8:10 p.m. EDT, Saturday, May 15. The launch has been postponed to provide time for inspection of the rocket after the vehicle came in contact with a launcher support during today’s preparations. A mission to explore energy transport in space using a NASA suborbital sounding rocket launching May 8, 2021, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia may provide a brief light show for residents of the eastern United States and Bermuda.

The mission is scheduled for no earlier than 8:02 p.m. EDT with a 40-minute launch window, Saturday, May 8. Backup launch days run through May 16. The launch may be visible, weather permitting, in much of the eastern United States from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River.

A four-stage Black Brant XII rocket will be used for the mission that includes the release of barium vapor that will form two green-violet clouds that may be visible for about 30 seconds. The barium vapor is not harmful to the environment or public health

The mission, called the KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, or KiNet-X, is designed to study a very fundamental problem in space plasmas, namely, how are energy and momentum transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected?

The vapor will be released approximately 9 minutes and 30 seconds to around 10 minutes after launch at about 217-249 miles altitude over the Atlantic Ocean and 540-560 miles downrange from Wallops and just north of Bermuda.

Immediately after release of the vapor, the spherical clouds are a mixture of green and violet, but that phase only lasts about 30 seconds when the un-ionized component of the cloud has diffused away. After exposure to sunlight the vapor clouds quickly ionize and take on a violet color.

The ionized portion of the cloud becomes tied to the magnetic field lines and diffuses parallel to the field lines but not perpendicular to it. In the mid-Atlantic region latitudes, the field lines are inclined by about 45 degrees to the horizontal, so the violet clouds stretch out in a slanted orientation and look more like short trails than a cloud. Because the motion of the neutral portion of the clouds is not constrained by the magnetic field lines, they spread out more quickly and become too thin to see with the naked eye much sooner than the ionized component.

In general, the human eye does not see violet colors very well in darkness. The KiNET-X clouds will therefore be more difficult for the casual observer to see than some of the previous vapor missions launched from Wallops.

Live coverage of the mission will be available on the Wallops IBM video site (previously Ustream) beginning at 7:40 p.m. on launch day. Launch status updates can be found on the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites.

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will not be open for launch viewing.

Find out what the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station are up to by tuning in to the “ISS Live” broadcast. Hear conversations between the crew and mission controllers on Earth and watch them work inside the U.S. segment of the orbiting laboratory. When the crew is off duty, you can enjoy live views of Earth from Space. You can watch and listen in the window below, courtesy of NASA.

“Live video from the International Space Station includes internal views when the crew is on-duty and Earth views at other times. The video is accompanied by audio of conversations between the crew and Mission Control. This video is only available when the space station is in contact with the ground. During ‘loss of signal’ periods, viewers will see a blue screen.

“Since the station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, it experiences a sunrise or a sunset about every 45 minutes. When the station is in darkness, external camera video may appear black, but can sometimes provide spectacular views of lightning or city lights below.”

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