PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNEWS) — The Air Force marked its 50th consecutive successful launch March 8 with an Atlas V loaded with six experimental satellites.

Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles AFB, Calif., successfully launched the rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., with the 45th Space Wing spacelift team.

The mission integration and subsequent launch was a collaborative effort on the part of the Air Force, the Aerospace Corporation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the United Launch Alliance and contractors including the Boeing Company, Ball Aerospace, and AeroAstro.

The firsts on this mission include: 

— The first launch of an Air Force payload on an Atlas V; 

— The first flight of an EELV Secondary Payload Adaptor; 

— The first Air Force mission with six unique spacecraft; 

— The first dedicated EELV mission for the Department of Defense Space Test Program; and 

— The first Atlas V mission to carry multiple satellites to two distinctly different low-Earth orbits.

“I am just overwhelmed and ecstatic by the results of last night’s launch” said.” Lt. Col. Carol Welsch, director of the DOD Space Test Program and Space Development Group, SMC. “The separation systems on the ESPA ring worked flawlessly allowing the satellites to deploy nominally. I don’t believe the flight to the designated mission orbits could have gone any better than it did.”

This was the ninth launch of the Atlas V rocket that plays an important role in assured access to space.

“I congratulate the members of the Space Test Program, DARPA, and United Launch Alliance team on their successful mission accomplishment last evening,” said Col. Samuel Greaves, STP-1 mission director. I am proud to be a part of the success of this mission and I look forward to supporting future launches that show the same degree of dedication to mission success. Well done!”

“This is an exciting and historic day for the Air Force and our government/industry EELV launch team,” said Col. David Thompson, commander of the 45th Operations Group and spacelift commander for this mission. “This is our ninth straight successful Atlas V launch. It helps mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force because it’s another chapter in the long Atlas heritage that began back in the 1950s when the Air Force initially developed the Atlas as an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

The individual spacecraft launched on the Atlas V were:
— NextSat and ASTRO for the Defense Advanced Projects Agency: These satellites are part of a program called Orbital Express. They will spend the next three months in orbit, demonstrating for the first time fully autonomous rendezvous and capture of client spacecraft, satellite-to-satellite refueling, and replacement of battery and flight-computer orbital replacement units. The technologies developed by DARPA’s Orbital Express program are intended to support a broad range of future U.S. national security, civil and commercial space activities.

— STPSat-1 for the Space Test Program: This microsatellite was built to specifically exploit the new ESPA multi-mission launch capability. It supports STP’s mission to provide reliable access to space for DoD-sponsored experiments;

— CFESat for the Los Alamos National Laboratory: The Cibola Flight Experiment is a technology pathfinder project for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Research and Development. It is flying eight new technologies for space flight validation;

— MidSTAR for the U.S. Naval Academy: It is a general-purpose satellite bus carrying four experiments; and

— FalconSat-3 for the U.S. Air Force Academy: It is a general purpose satellite bus carrying three experiments.

Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Robbie Bethancourt helped build FalconSat-3. He was here for the launch and said, “It’s absolutely amazing. This is the first launch I’ve ever seen, and it’s my launch.”

(Information courtesy of Joe Davidson, Space and Missile Systems Center Public Affairs, and Ken Warren, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs)