The United Launch Alliance (ULA) made a successful launch Friday night with a new booster rocket. The launch used the ULA Atlas 5 missile that had an enhanced solid-fuel design. The company says the solid-fuel booster is cheaper and easier to handle than previous engines.
The New booster It was built by Northrop Grumman and named Gem 63. The new booster replaced the J-60A solid rocket boosters older than the Aerojet Rocketdyne used in all previous Atlas 5 missions. The launch Friday night used three GEM 63 boosters along with a Russian-made RD-180 kerosene engine.
The four rocket engines together produced 1.8 million pounds of thrust, pushing the 206-foot Atlas 5 missile away from the launch pad at 5:32 PM EST. The missile launch was successful, according to both the ULA and the National Reconnaissance Office. The National Reconnaissance Office owns the payload above the missile.
The launch has been delayed several times and was initially planned for November 3. One delay forced the missile to return to the hangar to replace the ECC runway. This channel was responsible for feeding conditioned air to the payload above the missile. The subsequent delay was due to a valve problem in the ground-based liquid oxygen system at the launch pad.
The missile was returned to the hangar again to protect against bad weather caused by Tropical Storm ETA. Friday’s launch was slightly delayed, by 19 minutes, due to minor technical issues. However, these issues were resolved, and the missile eventually launched without a problem. While the launch continued until Atlas 5 reached the upper layers of the atmosphere, it was after that point in a government-ordered news blackout. This was due to the sensitive nature of the load.