Atlas V launches dual payloads for USSF-12

June 30 at 6:00 pm E.T. from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

This evening an Atlas V rocket in the 541 configuration launched the USSF-12 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Systems Command carrying two satellite payloads. The payloads consist of the WFOV (Wide Field of View Testbed for the Space Sensing Directorate, and the USSF-12 Ring spacecraft for the Defense Department’s Space Test Program. They both travelled via Atlas V rocket directly into a geosynchronous orbit approximately 22,000 miles above the equator. Though the mission launched at 6:00 pm E.T. the payloads didn’t reach their desired orbit until roughly six hours after launch.

The first payload, WFOV is a test spacecraft that will inform the Next Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared program or OPIR. This program will succeed the Space Based Infrared Systems program and is designed to provide a resilient space based global missile warning capability against incoming threats from space. This payload is sponsored by Space Systems Command and managed by the NASA Ames Research Center, the WFOV spacecraft is based on Millennium’s AQUILA M8 affordable platform series and hosts a transformational OPIR six degree staring sensor which was developed under a separate contract y L3Harris Technologies. This spacecraft is designed with a three-to-five-year life span and has a total mass of 3,000kg. The primary mission in orbit is to explore missile warning algorithms and collect data while in space.

Photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS

According to General John Raymond, the Space Force’s chief of space operations, missile detection and tracking is the organizations number one mission, and the WFOV is the first step in that priority mission area. Four years ago, Russia claimed it had successfully completed tests of a hypersonic missile that they claimed was capable of reach Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. In March of this year the first in combat use of this missile was reported by Russia as well during the invasion Ukraine. This is the type of missile that the WFOV is designed to protect against.

The secondary payload, aptly named the USSF-12 Ring spacecraft is a classified mission which will demonstrate future technology for the Department of Defense. What we do know is that it is a Star platform built by Northrop Grumman and weighs 740-784kg with room for up to twelve payloads inside of six payload slots. Each of the six slots is designed for payloads around 320kg and it has a four-panel deployable solar array which provides 1200 W of power and a hydrazine based hypergolic propulsion system.

Today’s launch vehicle, the Atlas V made by ULA (United Launch Alliance) in the 541 configuration, meaning it has a five-meter fairing, four Solid Rocket Boosters, and 1 Centaur second stage engine. The five meter, or seventeen-foot diameter short payload fairing is produced from the advanced Out of Autoclave manufacturing process and is a sandwich composite structure made with a vented aluminum honeycomb core and graphite epoxy face sheets. This fairing brings the entire height of the Atlas V to 196 ft, or 59.7 meters tall.

The Centaur second stage is 10ft in diameter and makes up for 41.5ft of the overal lenght of the launch vehicle. It comes with propellant tanks that are pressure stabilized and constructed from corrosion resistant stainless steel. Fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, it is powered by a RL10C-1 engine which produces 22,900 lbs of thrust. Insulated with a combination of helium purged blankets, radiation shields and spray on foam insulation, the cryogenic tanks are made to withstand the extreme environment of space. The CFA, or Centaur forward adapter provides structural mountings for the fault tolerant avionics system and structural and electrical interfaces with the spacecraft.

Making up the base of the launch vehicle is the booster. a 12.5 ft in diameter tank made of isogrid aluminum barrels, spun formed aluminum domes and intertank skirts. Propulsion is provided by the RD-180 engine system which is a single engine comprised of dual chambers which uses RP-1 and liquid oxygen to deliver 860,200 lbs. of thrust at sea level. The four SRBs generate the additional thrust required at lift off which each one providing 371,550 lbs. of thrust. Combined this Atlas V variant will provide 2.3 million pounds of thrust as the rocket lifts off.