May 9, 2011

Atlas 5 Rocket Carries New Defense Satellite Into Orbit

An Atlas 5 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday to place the first satellite of the Defense Department's new missile-warning system into orbit.

The rocket launched at 2:10 a.m. eastern time after a day's delay due to poor weather.

The $1.3 billion Space-Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) Geo-1 spacecraft was aboard the Atlas 5 during liftoff.

The satellite is intended to provide the U.S. military with early notice of missile launches and other reconnaissance services.

The $17.6 billion SBIRS constellation will augment and replace the military's Defense Support Program satellites, which have been operating since 1970.

"Geo-1 will bring the dawn of a new era in persistent overhead surveillance," Roger Teague, head of the U.S. Air Force's Infrared Space Systems Directorate, told reporters.

"These systems are so much more sensitive. We can see much more, much earlier, much sooner (and) many dimmer targets."

Geo-1's position will be tweaked for the next nine days so that it ends up in orbit about 22,000 miles above the planet.

Officials said Geo-1 has instruments that can home in on areas of interest for tactical reconnaissance.

James Sponnick, mission operations director for United Launch Alliance, said Geo-2, the second in the constellation, will launch next year.

Image Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance


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