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ULA postpones U.S. spy satellite launch

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 4 (UPI) — United Launch Alliance postponed the launch of an undisclosed type of spy satellite for the U.S. Department of Defense on Wednesday from Florida because of a problem with the rocket’s propellant fuel system.

The company had planned to send the satellite into orbit at 5:54 p.m. EST aboard an Atlas V rocket from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. But doubt emerged about the launch in midafternoon as ULA investigated the issue.


“Launch operations will not continue tonight. We will be postured for another attempt in 48 hours,” the company posted on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

The launch also had been postponed Tuesday due to a problem with environmental controls for the satellite, but that problem was fixed, ULA reported on Twitter.

The defense department’s National Reconnaissance Office says little about any of its satellites, but the mission description states that the NROL 101 spacecraft is to support its “overall national security mission to provide intelligence data to the United States’ senior policymakers” and to the nation’s intelligence agencies and military.

The agency designed and built the satellite, and will operate it, according to the mission description.

ULA plans to test updated solid rocket boosters on the launch for the first time — three GEM 63 motors built by Northrop Grumman. The strap-on boosters will add to the total thrust.

The first-stage rocket core provides 860,200 pounds of thrust at liftoff. The three side boosters provide an additional 371,550 pounds, for a total of 1.23 million pounds.

By comparison, SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket provides more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, according to the company.

The new boosters are part of ULA’s transition away from the Atlas V and toward a new rocket and launch system, Vulcan. The company plans its first Vulcan launch in the first half of 2021.

“The GEM 63s will be used on Atlas V launches to build flight experience in preparation for using GEM 63XLs on #VulcanCentaur’s first flight,” ULA posted on Twitter.

20 years aboard the International Space Station

The International Space Station is photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking on October 4, 2018. NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev executed a fly-around of the orbiting laboratory to take pictures of the space station before returning home after spending 197 days in space. Photo courtesy of NASA/Roscosmos

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