Blasts From the Past: Our Top 10 Favorite ULA Launches

On Oct. 2, Mexico will take its next step in a quest to bring next-generation telecommunications to its citizens with the launch of the Morelos-3 satellite. To find its rightful place in orbit within the Mexsat constellation, Morelos-3 will hitch a ride on an Atlas V 421 rocket procured through Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) will provide the Atlas V and launch services—potentially making Morelos-3 its landmark 100th liftoff.  Since its inception merely nine years ago, it will be the only launch provider in America to reach the unprecedented number of 100 consecutive successful launches. That’s nearly one launch per month!

To honor ULA’s continued mission success, we’re reflecting on our favorite “blasts from the past.” In chronological order, here are our favorite top 10 ULA liftoffs!

1.       MUOS-4

MUOS-4

When:  Sept. 2, 2015
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 551
Customer:
U.S. Navy

In one of the most visually stunning launches to date, ULA rocketed the U.S. Navy’s fourth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-4) satellite into the early morning Florida skies. As darkness gave way to light in the midst of the Atlas V’s ascent, particularly captivating photos of the rocket were captured in the crystal clear morning air—launching this liftoff into our list of favorites. Lockheed Martin-built MUOS-4 joins three other MUOS satellites already in orbit and four relay ground stations to complete the MUOS network’s near-global coverage and extend the reach of secure communications for mobile military forces further than ever before.  

Orion

When: Dec. 5, 2014
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Delta IV Heavy
Customer:
NASA

The December 2014 launch was the first-ever high orbital flight test of Orion—the spacecraft that will take humans into deep space and ultimately to Mars. ULA sent the Lockheed Martin-built Orion on a ride in a Delta IV Heavy rocket—paving the way for a flight test that Orion passed with flying colors. Exploration Flight Test-1 was a significant step forward for America’s space program.

Photo: ULA

3.       WorldView-3

WorldView-3

When: Aug. 13, 2014
Where:
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 401, provided by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services
Customer:
DigitalGlobe

As part of its mission to make unparalleled visible and infrared spectrum satellite imaging a reality, DigitalGlobe approached our Commercial Launch Services business to provide a launch vehicle for its WorldView-3 satellite. Commercial Launch Services teamed up with ULA to successfully launch the satellite into orbit, and the two will partner again in 2016 to launch WorldView-4, also for DigitalGlobe.

4.       MAVEN

MAVEN

When: Nov. 18, 2013
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 401
Customer:
NASA

As another thread to pull in unraveling the mystery of Mars, ULA launched MAVEN—Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN—in fall of 2013. Lockheed Martin has built 10 of NASA’s Mars spacecraft, and MAVEN is the latest orbiter. While MAVEN is studying how the Martian atmosphere has evolved, our InSight spacecraft—launching in March 2016 for NASA—will examine Mars’ interior structure.   

5.       AEHF-3

AEHF-3

When: Sept. 18, 2013
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 531
Customer
: U.S. Air Force

In the early morning hours of Sept. 18, 2013, the third Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite built by Lockheed Martin roared into orbit atop an Atlas V with stunning contrast against a pitch black Florida sky. This satellite was the third and most recent addition to the U.S. Air Force’s nearly impenetrable protected satellite communications network that connects the oval office to the front lines.

Launch Photo: ULA

6.       GRAIL

GRAIL

When: Sept. 10, 2011
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Delta II Heavy
Customer:
NASA

As the only dual launch in our top 10, ULA helped GRAIL—Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory—take flight towards the moon. The two nearly identical Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft provided us with the most accurate map of the moon’s gravitational field to date, giving scientists further indications of how celestial bodies like it formed and evolved over time. After the mission was complete, the two spacecraft were sent to the moon’s surface in a controlled manner, where they remain today.

Launch Photo: ULA

7.       Juno

Juno

When: Aug. 5, 2011
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 551
Customer:
NASA

More than four years ago, ULA gave Juno its first boost, kicking off its long, five-year journey to Jupiter—more than 1.7 billion miles away. Juno, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, will be inserted into Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016. Once there, the spacecraft will study the gas giant’s structure and evolution in an effort to help us better understand the origins of our solar system.

Launch Photo: ULA

8.       SBIRS GEO-1

SBIRS GEO-1

When: May 7, 2011
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 401
Customer:
U.S. Air Force

In May 2011, the United States Air Force launched the first Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite, marking a drastic improvement in the nation’s early missile warning and infrared surveillance capabilities. The on-orbit performance of SBIRS assets, beginning with GEO-1, continues to exceed the Air Force’s expectations and deliver valuable battlefield advantages to warfighters around the globe.

Photo: ULA

9.       IntelSat-14

IntelSat-17

When: Nov. 23, 2009
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 431, provided by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services
Customer:
IntelSat

ULA yet again demonstrated its commitment to supporting enhancement of telecommunications around the world with the IntelSat-14 launch. Supported by our Commercial Launches Services business, ULA boosted IntelSat’s satellite into orbit without a hitch.

Photo: ULA

10.       ICO-G1 (EchoStar-G1)

ICO-G1

When: April 14, 2008
Where:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V 421, provided by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services
Customer:
ICO Satellite Management (now Dish Network Corporation)

The ICO-G1 launch holds a particularly special spot on our list, as it was the first commercial launch of an Atlas V since ULA’s inception. The satellite is currently in a geosynchronous orbit and provides mobile communications support for satellite phones.

Photo: ULA

September 29, 2015