Thursday, January 19, 2012

Military's fourth WGS satellite safely in orbit

The fourth in the military's highest-capacity line of satellites is safely in orbit after a successful launch Thursday night from Cape Canaveral.

After an uneventful countdown, a 22-story United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket blasted off on-time at 7:38 p.m., rising to the east from Launch Complex 37 into a crystal-clear, star-filled sky.

Four solid rocket motors could be seen as flickering embers dropping away from the first stage of the rocket, which they helped lift off the pad with a combined nearly 1 million pounds of thrust.

Observers up and down the east coast of Florida and across the state reported seeing the rocket's ascent.

About 40 minutes after liftoff, the fourth Wideband Global SATCOM satellite -- which weighed 13,200 pounds on the pad -- separated from the rocket's upper stage, prompting cheers from the launch team.

The satellite called WGS-4 will continue to adjust its orbit and undergo tests before being parked over the Indian Ocean and beginning operations this summer.

"WGS-4 will provide important capabilities to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines protecting our freedoms around the world," said Jim Sponnick, ULA's vice president of mission operations.

"This mission begins the most aggressive launch campaign in the history of the (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) program, with nine national security and two NASA launches scheduled this year."

The launch was the 18th by a Delta IV, the second of the configuration featuring four ATK solid rocket motors and a five-meter diameter payload fairing.

ULA's Delta IV and Atlas V rockets have now each successfully launched a pair of WGS spacecraft since 2007.

The next Cape launch is planned Feb. 16. An Atlas V will carry the first vehicle in the Navy's Mobile User Objective System.


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