Final launch carries satellite system
There it rose, bringing a burst of light in the night: the last Atlas rocket to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base.
As it soared, a chapter ended, one that started with the first Atlas launch from Vandenberg in 1958.
On Thursday, the Atlas V rocket took off at 1:49 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-3 on a mission to make weather forecasts more accurate. The objective was to put the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 into orbit for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The advanced system is designed to improve the accuracy and timeliness of weather prediction models. Surveying Earth twice a day, the JPSS-2 system will obtain global observations to aid short- and long-term forecasts.
Data will include imagery, atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles, land and ocean surface temperature measurements, and readings on ozone levels and solar radiation, according to Vandenberg Space Force Base.
On Thursday, Col. Rob Long, the Space Launch Delta 30 commander, served as the launch decision authority.
“Today the Western Range closed another chapter in history that began with the first Atlas vehicle launch from SLC-3 in 1958,” Col. Long said in a news release. “Our outstanding Airmen and Guardian professionals continue to showcase flawless execution and teamwork alongside NASA, NOAA and ULA (United Launch Alliance) conducting safe launch and range operations to ensure a successful mission.”
In addition to the satellite system, the rocket carried NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator. The technology is designed for both large robotic and crewed missions to Mars, according to NASA.
JPSS-2 is the 301st Atlas rocket launched from Vandenberg. The 300th Atlanch launched in 2021 was also Team Vandenberg’s 2,000th launch.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have been the launch director for Team Vandenberg’s 2,000th launch for the Atlas V Landsat 9 mission as well as today’s JPSS-2 mission,” Col. Long said Thursday.
Col. Long also commented on the JPSS-2 being the final Atlas variant to launch from Vandenberg.
“While we close this chapter, we are excited about the increased tempo on the horizon on the Western Range,” Col. Long said.
With the end Thursday of the Atlas rocket’s operations on the West Coast, ULA is moving ahead with the transition to its next launch vehicle, the Vulcan rocket.
Variations of the Atlas rocket have played a major role in the history of both unmanned and manned flights. Atlas LV-3B was the launch vehicle for the one-man Mercury flights that started NASA’s manned program in the 1960s.