A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off on Nov. 13 at 5:32 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“Thank you to our mission partners, the NRO and the United States Space Force for their continued confidence and partnership with ULA,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “This launch was the inaugural launch of our new GEM 63 solid rocket motors, an instrumental step for ULA to build flight experience in preparation for the Vulcan Centaur, our next generation launch vehicle.”
The NROL-101 mission was the first ULA launch flying the new Northrop Grumman Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM) 63 solid rocket boosters that burn solid propellant and augment the lifting capacity of rocket's first stage. The GEM 63s measure 63 in. (1.6 meters) in diameter and 66 ft. (20.11 meters) in length. Each GEM 63 produced 371,550 pounds (1.6 mega-Newtons) of max thrust to augment the 860,200 pounds (3.83 mega-Newtons) of thrust produced by the RD-180 main engine to power the Atlas V rocket skyward. At liftoff, the combined thrust was nearly 1.8 million pounds or 8 million mega-Newtons.
The mission launched on an Atlas V 531 that included a 17 ft. (5 meter) payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. Aerojet Rocketdyne provided the RL10C-1 engine for the Centaur upper stage.
This was the 86th launch of the Atlas V rocket and the 71st Atlas V to launch from Space Launch Complex-41 in Florida. ULA’s next launch is the NROL-44 mission for the NRO from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. To date ULA has launched 141 times with 100 percent mission success.