August 4, at 630 am E.T. From SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
As the sun rose over the sleeping space coast residents were woken up to the sound of a growing thunder in the distance. A low rumbling that continued to grow for several minutes until those near enough felt the vibrations through their windows. In truth there was no thunder, it was the sound of an Atlas V rocket lifting off the ground and into space on a mission to launch the sixth and final Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft for the United States Space Force’s Space Systems Command.
What made that noise was the 106ft tall, 12.5 ft wide rocket booster that pushes out 860,200lbs of thrust through its RD-180 engine. Attached to that booster were twin SRBS (Solid Rocket Boosters) that each provide 371,550lbs of added thrust. For just over two minutes those SRBs burned through the sky pushing the rocket further towards the heavens. After they burned out the main booster continued to burn for another two minutes to push the vehicle to the outskirts of Earth’s atmosphere where it could jettison itself from the second stage and continue to go deeper into orbit. The payload, or SBIRS GEO-6 is encapsulated on the top of the rocket inside a four-meter fairing, consisting of two halves made of aluminum to protect the systems as they push away from Earth. This mission also has the honor to be the last mission to use these 4-meter fairings that have become a trademark of the Atlas V rocket.
Just like its immediate predecessor, SBIRS GEO-5, which launched in May of 2021, the SBIRS GEO-6 is built on a modern space vehicle design, the enhanced LM2100 Combat Bus. This bus provides greater resiliency and cyber hardening, enhanced power, propulsion, and electronics, common components and procedures that streamline manufacturing, and a flexible design which reduces the cost to incorporate future modernized sensors. SBIRS GE)-5 and GEO-5 were originally to be clones of the previous SBIRS satellites built by Lockheed Martin, but in 2015 the U.S. Air Force agreed to rebaseline the contract and upgrade these two satellites for no additional cost. Lockheed Martin stated the LM2100 is a game changer for the military satellite design, providing production and efficiency, enhanced resiliency options and so much more flexibility for additional payloads and sensors.
“This is a monumental achievement by the women and men of the SBIRS Program, past and present, who were able to complete production ahead of schedule and deliver on warfighter commitments we made nearly a decade ago,” said Col. Matt Spencer, the GEO/Polar Division Senior Materiel Leader in SSC’s Production Corps. “The additional capability this committed government and contractor team has been able to deliver with SBIRS GEO-6 is nothing short of remarkable given the entire integration and test campaign was done under the COVID-19 pandemic.”
SBIRS is a high-priority U.S. Space Force program that provides worldwide Missile Warning, Missile Defense, Battlespace Awareness, and Technical Intelligence capabilities for the U.S. military and consists of a constellation of satellites in both GEO and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO). “The SBIRS program is an invaluable part of our early missile warning system,” said Mr. Cordell A. DeLaPena, Jr., U.S. Space Force Program Executive Officer for Space Production. “With the completion of SBIRS GEO-6 our Missile Warning enterprise grows stronger and will be better able to support the warfighter once it is safely launched and integrated into the already existing infrastructure.”
Space Systems Command, or SSC is located in Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California and is responsible for developing and acquiring lethal and resilient space capabilities for warfighters. This is in part by rapidly identifying, prototyping, fielding, and sustaining innovative, space-based solutions to meet the National Defense Strategy demands. Space Systems Command requirements include the developmental testing, production, launch, on orbit checkout, and maintenance of USSF space systems, along with oversight of the USSF science and technologies activities.