United Launch Alliance (ULA) had a successful liftoff on Friday night using a new rocket booster. The launch used a ULA Atlas 5 rocket that had a solid-fueled booster design. The company says the solid-fueled booster is cheaper and easier to handle than the previous strap-on motors.
The new booster is built by Northrop Grumman and called the Gem 63. The new booster replaced the older a J-60A solid rocket boosters from Aerojet Rocketdyne used on all previous Atlas 5 missions. Friday night’s launch used three GEM 63 boosters along with a Russian-made RD-180 engine powered by kerosene.
Together the four rocket engines produced 1.8 million pounds of thrust, pushing the 206-foot-tall Atlas 5 rocket away from the launchpad at 5:32 PM EST. The rocket launch was a success, according to both ULA and the National Reconnaissance Office. The National Reconnaissance Office owns the payload atop the rocket.
This launch had been delayed several times and was initially planned for November 3. One delay forced the rocket back to its hanger for an environmental control system duct to be replaced. That duct was responsible for feeding conditioned air to the payload on top of the rocket. A subsequent delay was due to an issue with valves in the ground liquid oxygen system at the launchpad.
The rocket was returned to its hanger again to protect against bad weather resulting from tropical storm Eta. Friday’s launch was delayed slightly, by 19 minutes, due to minor technical issues. However, those issues were cleared, and the rocket was ultimately launched without a problem. While the launch was followed until the Atlas 5 reached the atmosphere’s uppermost layers, it was after that point under a government-ordered news blackout. This was due to the sensitive nature of the payload.