Atlas V rocket launched USSF-12 mission for U.S. Space Force

Atlas V 541 No.94 rocket will put a pair of surveillance/missile tracking satellites to Geo Synchronous Orbit.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 (AV-094) rocket liftoffs from SLC-41, Cape Canaveral, FL (Photo: ULA)

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket (Designated as AV-094) launched the USSF-12 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). Liftoff occurred at 23:15 UTC (19:15 EDT) from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

The USSF-12 mission took off from Cape Canaveral after a 24-hour delay on Thursday due to weather, as well as additional weather delays earlier in the Friday window. Atlas V's first and second stages separated four and a half minutes after takeoff.

The Wide Field of View WFOV and Space Test Project STP satellites are the two payloads for the USSF-12 mission. The Atlas V's first and second stages separated four and a half minutes after liftoff, a milestone that was soon followed by a more than six-minute burn of the upper-stage Centaur's engine. The third ignition at 0459 UTC placed the vehicle in an orbit of 36,106 × 36,168 km x 0.0 degrees, and the payloads are released along with an adapter. The third burn of the Centaur upper stage was completed, ending the powered flight phase for the launch of the two satellites. The special adapter that allowed the Atlas V to carry the two payloads was successfully jettisoned, making way for the USSF-12 Ring release. The USSF-12 Ring spacecraft was released by Centaur, completing the launch.

The work planned for the WFOV satellite relates to the Space Force's next-generation persistent infrared (OPIR) constellation, characterized as “the cornerstone” of the future US architecture for missile warning, tracking and defense, in particular against hypersonic missiles, that maneuver and generate a weaker infrared signature than other weapons.

Space Force’s Wide Field of View Testbed satellite for missile warning. (Photo: Millennium Space Systems)

Built by Boeing's Millennium Space Systems, the WFOV satellite will monitor Earth's atmosphere for infrared signatures at a higher resolution and over a larger area of ​​Earth than existing Space-Based Infrared System satellites.

L3Harris Technologies built the WFOV's new wide-focal-plane infrared sensor — "4k by 4k" or 4,000 pixels by 4,000 pixels — to provide "an in-orbit OPIR capability with advanced sensitivity that can track dark targets over large areas," the company said. Cell Heather B. Bogstie of Space Force Space Systems Command during the call. The SSC is one of three Space Force field commands organizationally similar to the main Air Force commands. It is the successor to the former Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base. Bogstie said the new sensor also features "reduced noise".

“Launching WFOV comes at an opportune time with all of the threats out there now. What’s setting WFOV apart is the 4kx4k staring focal plane array, making it so you’re more likely to catch threats,” Millennium CEO Jason Kim told Breaking Defense in an email. “And WFOV is proving out various technologies and algorithms on orbit which will be transitioned into future programs to keep ahead of the threats.”

“This mission will give us 24/7 coverage over 3,000 kilometers over the Pacific theater,” Bogstie said. She said the WFOV "is an integral part of the country's missile warning and missile tracking architecture" and that its large focal plane sensor is appropriate for orbits other than GEO. The Space Development Agency and the SSC are working on plans for infrared missile warning and constellation tracking in low and medium Earth orbits, respectively.

The WFOV “will be an important trailblazer for our future MEO missile tracking systems,” Bogstie said. “Data exploration, the mission planning pieces for the Wide Field of View Testbed, will be very important in how we operationalize the data that goes to the warfighter and also gets put into the integrated missile alert/missile tracking/architecture. of missile defense. "So that's why it's important, knowing that the threat is imminent right now, as this particular mission is a trailblazer for what we're looking to field." In all, the mission, including the two satellites and the launch, cost $1.1 billion.

AtlasV AV-094 carrier rocket in launch configuration, has a 5-meter-diameter head cover, four auxiliary solid propellant boosters and an RL-10C engine in the Centaur stage

The STP is an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman; it is a self-propelled ring-shaped structure that will transport various secret experiments for the Space Test Program.

The USSF-12 Ring was built by Northrop Grumman, based on the company's ESPAStar product line. This ring is being controlled by the DoD and has six unique payload mounts as well as an independent propulsion system, said Matt Verrock, vice president of space safety at Northrop Grumman. The DoD has not released details on any of these payloads, but the program director.

The assembled Atlas V 541 rocket spans about 59.7 meters and has a take-off mass of 536,180 kg; according to the ULA, it is loaded with 413,694.19 liters of liquid propellant (LOX and RP-1) and 181,436.9 kg of solid propellants. The engines will produce 1,064,583.73 kgf (10,478 kN) at lift-off.

USSF-12 mission timeline

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