Atlas V to Launch NROL-35
Rocket/Payload: An Atlas V 541 will launch the NROL-35 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Date/Site/Launch Time: Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Mission Description: Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Launch Notes: NROL-35 will be the 51st Atlas V mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in 2002, and the third launch in the 541 configuration. An Atlas V 541 successfully launched the NROL-67 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office earlier this year and NASA’s Curiosity rover to Mars in 2011.
Larger Atlas V scheduled for Vandenberg launch this Thursday
An Atlas V rocket—unlike any other launched on the West Coast—is scheduled for lift-off this Thursday at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
It's called an Atlas V 541, and it's the same type of rocket used to launch the Mars rover Curiosity back in 2011.
The rocket is larger than the most recent Atlas V to launch at Vandenberg because it has booster rockets.
Thursday's mission, named NROL-35, is in cooperation with the National Reconnaissance Office and is highly secretive.
Weather permitting, and a storm is expected to hit the Central Coast Thursday afternoon, is set for sometime between 6 and 8 p.m.
The 4th Space Launch Squadron is in charge of mission assurance and safety for this launch operation.
"A launch like this takes teamwork and dedication," said Lt. Col. James Bodnar, the squadron's commander. "Our mission assurance technicians and engineers have worked hand-in-hand with United Launch Alliance going over critical procedures and tasks to ensure this launch is a safe and successful one."
Weather not looking promising for Atlas 5 launch
Rainy weather at the California launch site is forecast to put a damper on plans to fly an Atlas 5 rocket on Thursday evening.
Air Force meteorologists are predicting a combination of rain, clouds and even lightning, with a mere 10 percent chance of acceptable liftoff conditions.
“A well-developed frontal system will dig into the west coast on Thursday with frontal passage occurring just after T-0,” forecasters reported today.
“As such, unsettled weather is expected for the range to include precipitation, cumulus clouds, thick clouds, disturbed weather, strong winds, and a slight chance for lightning as the system moves through the region.
“Cloud bases will be down around 1,800 feet with visibility between 5 and 7 miles in rain showers. Temperatures will be 55F to 61F. Max upper level winds will be southwesterly at 125 knots from 32,000 to 36,000 feet.
“Unfavorable weather may delay the launch.”
Liftoff is scheduled for 7:17 p.m. local time (10:17 p.m. EST).
Mission Live Updates
Dec 12 - Atlas V 541 : NROL-35 Launch site Vandenberg AFB, CA
Launch Date Dec 12
From Launch Pad SLC-3
Launch Window : 7:17pm PST (10:17pm EST 3:17am GMT)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the top secret National Reconnaissance Office NROL-35 payload into orbit. The Atlas V will be in the 541 configuration with a 5M payload fairing, four strap-on solid rocket boosters and a single Centaur upper stage.
As usual with NROL missions there is little information available regarding the launch plans and no preliminary mission data available. The launch will have video and media coverage but will enter a news blackout after first stage separation.
The size and payload-to-orbit capacity of the 541 is illustrative of the magnitude of the secretive NROL-35 payload, which it has been speculated may be headed for an elliptical “Molniya-type” orbit, with a perigee of 680 miles (1,100 km) and an apogee as high as 23,360 miles (37,600 km), inclined about 62.4 degrees to the equator.
This will be the first 541 launch from the West Coast and will thus represent the most powerful Atlas V ever to fly from Vandenberg. Both of the variant’s previous launches were staged from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, as were the four flights of the Atlas V 551 heavy lifter.
NROL-35 will benefit from a new variant of the engine for its Centaur upper stage, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s liquid oxygen/hydrogen-fueled RL-10C. This restartable engine has a maximum thrust of 23,900 pounds (10,840 kg).
Approaching Storm Scrubs California Rocket Launch
An approaching storm has delayed the launch of a U.S. defense satellite from California's central coast.
An Atlas V rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office was scheduled to lift off Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
However, the launch was postponed to Friday night because of concerns that the storm might bring rain, heavy clouds, gusty winds and even lightning.
Strong gales and sheets of rain from the storm knocked out electricity, flooded freeways and toppled trees in Northern California earlier Thursday
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload successfully launches from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 12, at 7:19 p.m. PDT. This is the most powerful Atlas V rocket launched from Vandenberg because it has four solid rocket boosters, producing approximately 250,000 pounds of thrust per solid rocket. These four solids along with the main engine of the Atlas V produced a total thrust around 2 million pounds at liftoff.