Atlas rocket blasts off from Florida with military communications satellite

Atlas rocket blasts off from Florida with military communications satellite
The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA’s Orion spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37.

CAPE CANAVERAL, US - An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Tuesday with a next-generation communications satellite designed to provide cellular-like voice and data services to US military forces around the world.

The 20-story-tall rocket, manufactured and flown by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, lifted off at 8:04 p.m. EST/0104 GMT, the first of 13 missions the company plans for this year.

Perched on top of the rocket was the third spacecraft for the US Navy's $7.3 billion Mobile User Objective System, or MUOS, network, which is intended to provide 3G-like cellular technology to vehicles, ships, submarines, aircraft and troops on the move.

"MUOS is a game-changer in communications for our warfighters," Iris Bombelyn of satellite manufacturer Lockheed Martin said in a statement before launch.

The planned five-satellite system is designed for high-fidelity, secure voice conversations, networked conference calls and data relay services, including video, worldwide.

With two satellites already in orbit, a third on its way and two more scheduled for launch, MUOS will supplement and eventually replace the Navy's Ultra High Frequency Follow-On satellite system to provide 10 times more capacity than the current network, said Joe Kan, the Navy's MUOS programme manager.

"MUOS is going to bring a lot of capability," Kan, a Navy captain, told reporters in a conference call before launch."It's a very pervasive system, used by all the services - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and other partners."

Topping the scales at nearly 15,000 pounds (6,804 kg), the MUOS satellite needed the heaviest-lift Atlas rocket, which was outfitted with five strap-on solid rocket motors built by GenCorp Inc's Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The fourth MUOS launch is planned for later this year and the fifth, which will serve as an on-orbit spare, is due to fly in 2016, the Navy said.

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