On May 19, 2021, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket has launched the SBIRS Geo-5 missile warning satellite for the US Space Force. Photographer Andy Lin (@otromundialista) witnessed the event aboard a plane, and published the video of the launch on her Twitter and Youtube accounts saying “My plane happened to be flying by Cape Canaveral during the Atlas V launch yesterday”.
One of the tallest and strongest rockets ever produced, Atlas V is an expendable launch system. It was formerly operated by Lockheed Martin and is now operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture with Boeing.
Each Atlas V rocket uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen to power its first stage and an American-built RL10 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power its Centaur upper stage.
Atlas V is commonly used for interplanetary missions (for example, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was launched on January 19, 2006, aboard an Atlas V rocket), military payloads, and cargo runs to the International Space Station. As of July 2018, this rocket type has had 78 launches with no complete failures, making it among the most reliable in the world.
This launch’s payload, the SBIRS Geo-5 missile warning satellite was produced by Lockheed Martin. SBIRS stands for “Space-Based Infrared Surveillance”. It is the first modernized SBIRS missile warning satellite of the US Space Force.
SBIRS system includes a combination of satellites and hosted payloads in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) and ground hardware and software. It uses infrared surveillance to provide early missile warnings for the U.S. military.