Press Release

United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket Set to Launch NASA’s Mars Science Lab to the Red Planet

By SpaceRef Editor
November 21, 2011
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United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket Set to Launch NASA’s Mars Science Lab to the Red Planet

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is set to launch NASA’s Mars Science Lab (MSL) mission with the Curiosity rover on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10:02 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

This mission will be launched aboard an Atlas V 541 configuration vehicle, which includes a 5-meter diameter RUAG Space payload fairing along with four Aerojet solid rocket motors attached to the Atlas booster. The Atlas booster for this mission will be powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage will be powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10A engine.

“ULA is proud to be a part of this very special mission for NASA,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “MSL is the last of five critical missions ULA is scheduled to launch for NASA this year and the entire team is extremely focused on mission success for the launch of this mission.”

Once liftoff has occurred, solid rocket motor jettison will take place at nearly two minutes into flight, followed by the jettison of the payload fairing at almost three and a half minutes.

Separation of the first stage will occur at 4 minutes and 27 seconds into the flight, followed by two upper stage engine burns separated by an approximately 21-minute coast phase. Approximately 44 minutes into flight, spacecraft separation from the Centaur upper stage will occur, sending Curiosity on its 9-month journey to the red planet. The coast phase durations and spacecraft separation times can vary by as much as 5-10 minutes from these nominal times, depending on the time and date of the launch.

After landing on Mars in August 2012, MSL’s prime mission will last one Martian year (nearly two Earth years). Researchers will use the rover’s tools to study whether the landing region has environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life.

ULA program management, engineering, test, and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver, Colo. Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located at Decatur, Ala., and Harlingen, Texas. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA Web site at, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321).

SpaceRef staff editor.