WorldView-4 launches successfully after two-month fire delay

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WASHINGTON — After nearly two months of delay due to wildfires, United Launch Alliance successfully launched an Atlas 5 rocket Nov. 11 carrying an important imaging satellite for DigitalGlobe.

The Atlas 5 lifted off at 1:30 p.m. Eastern from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying the Worldview-4 satellite. DigitalGlobe later confirmed that it received signals from the spacecraft 45 minutes after launch, confirming it was in good health after separation from the rocket’s upper stage.

“This morning’s Atlas 5 launch delivered the WorldView-4 satellite into near sun-synchronous orbit during a flawless flight,” Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of human and commercial services, said in a press release. “ULA is proud to have launched the entire constellation of DigitalGobe’s satellites and served in an essential role to get this revolutionary capability to orbit.”

The WorldView-4 launch had been scheduled for Sept. 18. Indeed, the countdown was already underway when it was halted due to a wildfire in the vicinity of the launch pad at Vandenberg.

It took weeks for firefighters to put out the blaze and then repair any damage that had been done. Although the rocket and payload itself were not damaged, ULA and DigitalGlobe delayed the launch to confirm that all systems were unaffected. DigitalGlobe said it used some of its satellites already in orbit to image the wildfire and share that information with firefighters.

“The 30th Mission Support Group, Operations Group, Launch Group, and many other units across the base have been working hard since the fire to get their systems back to a launch configuration,” said Capt. Sean Kelly, the Fourth Space Launch Squadron system infrastructure and facilities engineering chief at Vandenberg.

“Power lines had to be washed by the 30th [Civil Engineer Squadron], fiber paths had to be repaired or replaced by the 30th Space Communications Squadron, and we, the 30th [Launch Group, assessed the launch facilities and associated launch infrastructure, ensuring a safe and stable power and environmental condition for satellites and the Atlas 5 booster,” he added.

WorldView-4 is an advanced imaging satellite built by Lockheed Martin. According to DigitalGlobe, it can capture details with a resolution of 30 centimeters. It will operate in conjunction with WorldView-3, which has been in orbit for nearly three years.

In addition to WorldView-4, the Centaur upper-stage rocket carried 10 experimental cubesats from the National Reconnaissance Office, collectively named “Enterprise.” They include satellites to aid in climate change prediction, test out new forms of satellite propulsion, and determine the survivability of low-cost spacecraft.