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ULA launches two new Space Force tracking satellites into orbit

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ULA launches two new Space Force tracking satellites into orbit
United Launch Alliance launches its Atlas V rocket with two U.S. Space Force satellites from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Friday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- United Launch Alliance sent two space tracking satellites into orbit for the U.S. Space Force from Florida on Friday afternoon.

The Atlas V rocket lifted off as planned at 2 p.m. EST into a mostly cloudy sky from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station near Kennedy Space Center. The single solid rocket booster strapped to the rocket also ignited, contributing to the rocket's fiery plume.

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The satellites, GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6, are to join four similar spacecraft in a high orbit around the Earth. They are designed to track manmade objects, or other spacecraft, in orbit.

Two minutes after liftoff, ULA launch commentator Patrick Moore said the rocket was "38 miles in altitude, 35 miles downrange in distance and traveling at 4,200 miles per hour."

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The launch company said separation of the satellites from the upper stage of the rocket would take place more than six hours after launch.

ULA fueled the rocket with "66,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen" before launch, according to a company update on Friday morning.

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Specifics about the spacecraft and their design are classified. But the system is designed to enhance "knowledge of the geosynchronous orbit environment, and further [enable] spaceflight safety to include satellite collision avoidance," according to the Space Force.

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The GSSAP spacecraft also have the ability to fire thrusters and move near a suspicious or unknown object to investigate it, the Space Force says in its program description.

The Atlas rocket flew in a 511 configuration, the first time it has, according to ULA. That means the rocket has one solid booster strapped to it. The company didn't immediately respond to further questions about that configuration.

ULA plans to transition to a new rocket, the Vulcan, sometime this year.

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Out-of-this-world images from space

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA

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