ULA’s 141st successful mission with the Atlas V

Space Coast, FL – Yesterday, United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched the Mighty Atlas V. The Atlas V rocket launched NROL-101. This Atlas V used for the very first time new GEM-63 SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters), manufactured by Northrop Grumman.

Atlas V lifts off NROL 101
Atlas V 531 lights up SLC-41 | photo: Jon Van Horne

Solid Rocket Boosters

The SRBs replaced Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AJ-60A solid rocket boosters. This was Northrop Grumman’s SRB debut and were a smaller version of the GEM-63XL SRBs. Which are slated to lift off with ULA’s next rocket, Vulcan.

Engine and SRBs close up photo Atlas V 531
3 GEM-63 SRBs and RD-180 Engine on core booster | photo: Crystal Gabriel

NROL 101 and Rocket config

The launch marked ULA’s 141st mission success and 29th for the NRO. It is the 86th Atlas V launch and the 4th in the 531 configuration. If you were wondering what the 531 configuration means, well it’s simple. 5 is for the payload fairing as it’s 5 meters in diameter. 3 is for the amount of Solid Rocket Booster mated to the core stage. 1 is for the amount of engines in the second stage. In this case, 1 Centaur engine that ignites after 1st stage separation. Delivering the payload to it’s pre-designated orbit.

Contrail of the Atlas V during sunset
Sunset colors reflect off of the SRB contrail and shadows are cast in the early-evening sky | photo: Jon Van Horne

The NROL 101 mission took flight at 1732 EST on Friday the 13th of November 2020 from SLC-41 after a small delay from a ground systems LOx (Liquid Oxygen) valve issue. CEO, Tory Bruno declared the mission success soon after with his famous digit only tweet,

On to the next mission for ULA, NROL-44 aboard the Delta IV Heavy, currently TBD. We’ll be watching out for the one closely. Stayed tuned in on our Launch Schedule page for upcoming launches.

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Jon Van Horne
Jon Van Horne

He began his career in media as a multimedia designer and developer in Montreal, Quebec. He developed a passion for media during his job in Photography and Video at a Montreal media content company. Other passions in media, photography/videography and soon going back to school in engineering.