The first of what U.S> Air Force officials hope will be many sighs of relief came today at 2:10 pm when an Atlas V 401 configuration launch vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., today carrying the first of a new generation of ballistic missile warning satellites.
Air Force Col. Roger Teague, who oversees the Space Based Infrared Program, says Sbirs GEO-1 costs roughly $1.3 billion, although billions of dollars went into developing the spacecraft and this future constellation of infrared (IR) warning sensors.
Vehicle separation is slated to take place 43 minutes after takeoff. At that point, the spacecraft will be at a 100 naut. mi. altitude heading for an apogee altitude of 19,323 naut. mi.
A series of six liquid apogee engine (LAE) burns are planned over nine days to reach a geosynchronous orbit slot 22,000 mil over the earth for initial checkout and operations, says Lt. Col. Ryan Umstattd, an Air Force Sbirs official.
At this point, the satellite will deploy its light shade (designed to protect the sensor payload), antennas and payload doors, he says.
Thirty-five days after launch, officials expect to turn the IR payloads (designed to collect in the short- and midwave IR bands, as well as in a "see to the ground" capability) on and begin transmitting raw data from the satellite. Full integrated tactical warning and attack assessment certification, allowing the satellite to officially tip missile defenses in the event of a threat, is expected within 18 months of launch.
Sbirs GEO-2 is likely to boost about one year after GEO-1.
UPDATE: Sbirs successfully separated from Centaur upper stage. Spacecraft now in its own en route to orbit.