With 80% favorable weather for a launch and building thick ground fog starting to develop over the SLC-41 launch pad the most powerful of all the Atlas V family of rockets screamed off the pad with 2.6 million pounds of thrust and weighing over 1,295,695 pounds (587,717 kg) fully fueled at liftoff.  Internally ULA has nicknamed the Atlas V 551 configuration with five solid rocket boosters, a five meter payload fairing and one centaur 2nd stage engine the “Beast”! 

On board are nine satellites for multiple organizations including U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program 6 (STPsat-6) and a NASA U.S. Naval research laboratory ultraviolet spectro-coronagraph (UVSC) pathfinder and NASA’s Laser communication relay demonstration (LCRD) which will showcase revolutionary capabilities of optical communications.

This is the 53rd U.S. national security mission to be launched by the Atlas V representing 60% of the 90 flights to date. It is also the 261st flight for the impressive Centaur 2nd stage for ULA.

The flight path is a rare and unique trajectory which is a direct injection into GSO orbit Geo Synchronized Orbit. The 2nd stage Centaur rocket will coast for 5 hours going from LEO to GEO with a full burn later taking the payloads to GSO orbit.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been launching scientific experimental payloads since 1965. STP-3 mission is carrying nine payloads for space domain awareness, space weather sensing, laser communications and operational nuclear detection.

This was also the very first time the payload fairing has been built totally in America by Ruag Space.

Congratulations to all involved for making this critical mission a success.

Article & Photos by Scott Schilke for spacenews.lu and space-news.es