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USAF launches multiple satellites on Atlas V rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. – Six satellites were launched into orbit on board a single Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle March 8. The six satellites made up an integrated payload called the Space Test Program-1. (Courtesy photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. – Six satellites were launched into orbit on board a single Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle March 8. The six satellites made up an integrated payload called the Space Test Program-1. (Photo by Pat Cokery/United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- A mission of "firsts" was successfully launched from here March 8 as six satellites were lofted into orbit on board a single Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The six satellites made up an integrated payload called the Space Test Program-1 (STP-1).

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 (ESPA);
· The first Air Force mission with six unique spacecraft;
· The first dedicated EELV mission for the DoD Space Test Program; and
· The first Atlas V mission to carry multiple satellites to two distinctly different low-Earth orbits.

"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 (STP): 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 (CFE) 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."