ULA: Currently no impact to the remainder of 2016 Atlas V manifest
A recent report has suggested that flights of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket have been “suspended” after the March 22, 2016, in-flight anomaly. On that mission, the rocket’s RD-180 on the first stage of that Atlas V 401 shut down about five-and-half seconds earlier than planned. SpaceFlight Insider reached out to the Colorado-based firm for clarification regarding these statements about upcoming flights of the booster.
“MUOS-5 is still indefinite on the Eastern Range. There is currently no impact to the remainder of the manifest,” Lyn Chassagne, a spokesperson for ULA told SpaceFlight Insider.
In a report appearing on Reuters, it was noted that ULA’s Atlas V would have to be repaired before flights could resume. However, when asked about the matter, ULA stated that, at present, the only mission that will be affected by these repairs required after the anomaly encountered during the OA-6 mission would be the flight of the fifth and final Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-5) satellite.
That mission had been slated to launch on May 5, it was pushed back a week to May 12 and has since been listed as “indefinite” as to when it will be launched on the Eastern Range.
During the flight of the OA-6 mission last month, the rocket experienced an unexpectedly early engine cutoff of the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine in the booster’s first stage. To compensate, the rocket’s second stage RL10C-1 rocket engine fired for about a minute longer than the 14 minutes that it was planned to be active for.
At present, there could be as many as eight more flights of the Atlas V launch vehicle between now and the end of 2016.
OA-6 was the second of two planned flights of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft on the venerable Atlas booster; the mission saw some 7,745 lbs (3,513 kg) of cargo, experiments, and crew supplies sent to the International Space Station.
Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.
Ms. Chassagne may prove to be correct, but ULA will have to haul tail in uncharacteristic ways not to make a liar out of her. Atlas V’s launch at Canaveral from SLC-41. The best turnaround interval ULA has ever previously managed on that pad is 29 days. Even assuming ULA reinstates the May 27 launch date for the MUOS 5 mission, that will leave just 28 days before the scheduled June 24 departure of NROL-61 from that same pad. In fairness, ULA did that 29-day pad turnaround immediately following a 30-day turnaround in Sept. and Oct. of last year, so they’ve had some recent experience hustling at SLC-41. But 28 days is still likely to prove a challenge. Until late last year, ULA had never turned SLC-41 in less than 32 days and their normal turnaround is six to eight weeks. It wouldn’t take much of an additional delay to MUOS 5 to push NROL-61’s launch date to the right and the current date for SBIRS GEO-3 is 7-27-16, just 33 days beyond NROL-61’s currently scheduled departure. After that, SLC-41 isn’t scheduled for use again until September so ULA has some potential slack they could yield to earlier launches if they are delayed by the investigation of the OA-6 anomaly. But at least two additional launches are likely to be delayed in chain-reaction fashion if MUOS 5 doesn’t fly by May 27 or earlier. I hope ULA chases its bug to ground soon and gets back on track, but the probability of two or even three delayed launches in sequence increases with each passing day.