Atlas V

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Atlas V
Atlas V(401) launches with LRO and LCROSS cropped.jpg
Launch of an Atlas V 401 carrying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS space probes on June 18, 2009
FunctionEELV/medium-heavy launch vehicle
ManufacturerUnited Launch Alliance
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launchUS$110 million in 2016[1]
Height58.3 m (191 ft)
Diameter3.81 m (12.5 ft)
Mass590,000 kg (1,300,000 lb)
Payload to LEO8,250–20,520 kg (18,190–45,240 lb)
Payload to GTO4,750–8,900 kg (10,470–19,620 lb)
Associated rockets
FamilyAtlas (rocket family)
Launch history
Launch sitesCape Canaveral SLC-41
Vandenberg SLC-3E
Total launches79
(401: 38, 411: 5, 421: 7, 431: 3)
(501: 6, 521: 2, 531: 3, 541: 6, 551: 9)
(401: 37, 411: 5, 421: 7, 431: 3)
(501: 6, 521: 2, 531: 3, 541: 6, 551: 9)
Partial failures1 (401 – low orbit, customer declared success)[2]
First flight21 August 2002 (Hot Bird 6)
Last flight17 October 2018 (AEHF-4)
Notable payloads
Boosters – AJ-60A[3]
No. boosters0 to 5
Length17.0 m (669 in)[3]
Diameter1.6 m (62 in)[3]
Gross mass46,697 kg (102,949 lb)
Propellant mass42,630 kg (93,980 lb) [4]
Thrust1,688.4 kN (379,600 lbf)
Specific impulse279.3 s (2.739 km/s)
Burn time94 seconds
First stage – Atlas CCB
Length32.46 m (106.5 ft)
Diameter3.81 m (12.5 ft)
Empty mass21,054 kg (46,416 lb)
Propellant mass284,089 kg (626,309 lb)
Engines1 RD-180
Thrust3,827 kN (860,000 lbf) (SL)
4,152 kN (933,000 lbf) (vac)
Specific impulse311.3 s (3.053 km/s) (SL)
337.8 s (3.313 km/s) (vac)
Burn time253 seconds
FuelRP-1 / LOX
Second stage – Centaur
Length12.68 m (41.6 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10.0 ft)
Empty mass2,316 kg (5,106 lb)
Propellant mass20,830 kg (45,920 lb)
Engines1 RL10A or 1 RL10C
Thrust99.2 kN (22,300 lbf) (RL10A)
Specific impulse450.5 s (4.418 km/s) (RL10A-4-2)
Burn time842 seconds (RL10A-4-2)
FuelLH2 / LOX

Atlas V[a] is an expendable launch system in the Atlas rocket family. It was formerly operated by Lockheed Martin and is now operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture with Boeing. Each Atlas V rocket uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen to power its first stage and an American-built RL10 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power its Centaur upper stage. The RD-180 engines are provided by RD Amross, while Aerojet Rocketdyne provides both the RL10 engines and the strap-on boosters used in some configurations. The standard payload fairing sizes are 4 or 5 meters in diameter and of various lengths. Fairings sizes as large as 7.2 m in diameter and up to 32.3 m in length have been considered.[5] The rocket is assembled in Decatur, Alabama and Harlingen, Texas.

Vehicle description[edit]

The Atlas V was developed by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services as part of the US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and made its inaugural flight on August 21, 2002. The vehicle operates out of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Space Launch Complex 3-E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services continued to market the Atlas V to commercial customers worldwide until January 2018, when ULA assumed control of commercial marketing and sales.[6][7]

Atlas V first stage[edit]

The Atlas V first stage, the Common Core Booster (CCB), is 12.5 ft (3.8 m) in diameter and 106.6 ft (32.5 m) in length. It is powered by a single Russian RD-180 main engine burning 627,105 lb (284,450 kg) of liquid oxygen and RP-1.[citation needed] The booster operates for about four minutes, providing about 4 meganewtons (860,000 lbf) of thrust.[8] Thrust can be augmented with up to five Aerojet strap-on solid rocket boosters, each providing an additional 1.27 meganewtons (285,500 lbf) of thrust for 94 seconds.

The Atlas V is the newest member of the Atlas family. Compared to the Atlas III vehicle, there are numerous changes. Compared to the Atlas II, the first stage is a near-redesign. There was no Atlas IV.

The main features of the Atlas V with regards to the Atlas family are:

  1. The first stage tanks no longer use stainless-steel monocoque "balloon" construction. The tanks are isogrid aluminum and are structurally stable when unpressurized.[8]
  2. Use of aluminium, with a higher thermal conductivity than stainless steel, requires insulation for the liquid oxygen. The tanks are covered in a polyurethane-based layer.[citation needed]
  3. Accommodation points for parallel stages, both smaller solids and identical liquids, are built into first-stage structures.[8]
  4. The "1.5 staging" technique is no longer used, having been discontinued on the Atlas III with the introduction of the Russian RD-180 engine.[8] The RD-180 features a dual combustion chamber, dual-nozzle design and is fueled by a kerosene/liquid oxygen mixture.
  5. The main-stage diameter increased from 10 feet to 12.5 feet. As with the Atlas III, the different mixture ratio of the engine called for a larger oxygen tank (relative to the fuel tank) compared to Western engines and stages.[citation needed]

Centaur upper stage[edit]

The Centaur upper stage uses a pressure-stabilized propellant-tank design and cryogenic propellants. The Centaur stage for Atlas V is stretched 5.5 ft (1.68 m) relative to the Atlas IIAS Centaur and is powered by either one or two Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4-2 engines, each engine developing a thrust of 99.2 kN (22,300 lbf). The inertial navigation unit (INU) located on the Centaur provides guidance and navigation for both the Atlas and Centaur and controls both Atlas and Centaur tank pressures and propellant use. The Centaur engines are capable of multiple in-space starts, making possible insertion into low Earth parking orbit, followed by a coast period and then insertion into GTO. A subsequent third burn following a multi-hour coast can permit direct injection of payloads into geostationary orbit.[9] As of 2006, the Centaur vehicle had the highest proportion of burnable propellant relative to total mass of any modern hydrogen upper stage and hence can deliver substantial payloads to a high-energy state.[10]

Payload fairing[edit]

Atlas V payload fairings are available in two diameters, depending on satellite requirements. The 4.2-meter fairing,[11] originally designed for the Atlas II booster, comes in three different lengths: the original 9-meter-long version, as well as 10-meter and 11-meter versions, first flown respectively on the AV-008/Astra 1KR and AV-004/Inmarsat-4 F1 missions.

A wider 5.4-meter fairing (4.57 meters internally usable) was developed and built by RUAG Space[12] in Switzerland. The RUAG fairing uses carbon fiber composite construction, based on flight-proven hardware from the Ariane 5. Three configurations are manufactured to support the Atlas V: 20.7, 23.4 and 26.5 meters long.[12] While the classic 4-meter fairing covers only the payload, the RUAG fairing is much longer because it fully encloses the Centaur stage, as well as the payload.[13]

Further developments[edit]

Many systems on the Atlas V have been the subject of upgrade and enhancement both prior to the first Atlas V flight and since that time. Work on a new Fault Tolerant Inertial Navigation Unit (FTINU) started in 2001 to enhance mission reliability for Atlas vehicles by replacing the existing non-redundant navigation and computing equipment with a fault-tolerant unit.[14] The upgraded FTINU first flew in 2006,[15][full citation needed] and in 2010 a follow-on order for more FTINU units was awarded.[16][full citation needed]

Atlas V CTS (Crew Transportation System)[edit]

From 2006 through at least 2014 ULA made proposals and did some design work for a human-rated version of the Atlas V. Atlas V was selected by NASA in late 2014, in conjunction with the Boeing CST-100 space capsule, to be used for human flight from 2018.

The work began as early as 2006, by ULA's predecessor company Lockheed Martin. An agreement between Lockheed and Bigelow Aerospace that year was reported that could lead to commercial private trips to low Earth orbit (LEO).[17]

Beginning in 2010, ULA did design and simulation work to human-rate the Atlas V for carrying passengers. ULA won a 2010 small contract of US$6,700,000 in the first phase of the NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to develop an Emergency Detection System (EDS) for human-rating the Atlas V launch vehicle.[18] As of February 2011, ULA "is still finishing up work on its $6.7-million award... In December ULA carried out a demonstration of its Emergency Detection System ... The company said it received an extension from NASA until April 2011 'to enable us to finish critical timing analyses tasks' for [the] fault coverage analysis work."[19]

NASA solicited proposals for CCP phase 2 in October 2010, under which ULA made a proposal for funding to "finish designing a key safety system for potential commercial crew launches on its Atlas and Delta rocket fleet". While NASA's goal then was to get astronauts to orbit by 2015, ULA President and CEO Michael Gass stated: "I think we need to stretch our goals to have commercial crew service operating by 2014" and committed ULA to meet that schedule if funded.[20] Other than the addition of the Emergency Detection System, no major changes were expected to the Atlas V rocket, but ground infrastructure modifications were planned. The most likely candidate for the human-rating was the 402 configuration, with dual RL10 engines on the Centaur upper stage and no solid rocket boosters.[20]

On July 18, 2011 NASA and ULA announced an agreement on the possibility of certifying the Atlas V to NASA's "human-rating" standards.[21] ULA agreed to provide NASA with data on the Atlas V, while NASA would provide ULA with draft human certification requirements.[21] As of July 2011 Bigelow Aerospace was still considering the use of a human-rated Atlas V for carrying spaceflight participants to its private space station.[22]

In 2011, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) picked the Atlas V to be the booster for its still-under-development Dream Chaser crewed spacecraft.[23] The Dream Chaser is designed to be a crewed vertical-takeoff, horizontal-landing (VTHL) lifting-body spaceplane that will be placed into LEO by an Atlas V, and is a proposed CCDev ISS crew transport vehicle.[23] However, in late 2014 NASA did not select the Dream Chaser to be one of the two vehicles selected under the Commercial Crew competition.

On August 4, 2011 Boeing announced that it would use the Atlas V as the initial launch vehicle for its CST-100 crewed spaceship, intended for both NASA-funded trips to the International Space Station, as well as for private trips to the proposed Bigelow Commercial Space Station.[24][25] As of August 2011, a three-flight test program had been projected to be completed by 2015, and potentially certify the Atlas V/CST-100 combination for human-spaceflight operations.[25] The first flight was expected to include an Atlas V rocket integrated with an unpiloted CST-100 capsule, to launch from Cape Canaveral's LC-41 in early 2015 into LEO,[24] with the second flight hoped to be an in-flight launch abort system demonstration in the middle of that year,[25] and the test-flight phase expected to culminate with a crewed mission at the end of 2015, carrying two Boeing test-pilot astronauts into LEO and returning them safely.[25] As of April 2019, the spacecraft is expected to fly unmanned in August 2019 with a first crewed test flight NET October 2019.

New solid boosters[edit]

In 2015, ULA announced that the Aerojet Rocketdyne-produced AJ-60A solid rocket boosters (SRBs) currently in use on Atlas V will be phased out in favor of new GEM 63 boosters produced by Orbital ATK. A stretched version of this booster will be used on the upcoming Vulcan rocket.[26]


Atlas V family
Atlas V Launch Vehicle Diagram.png

Each Atlas V booster configuration has a three-digit designation that indicates the features of that configuration. The first digit shows the diameter (in meters) of the payload fairing and always has a value of "4" or "5". The second digit indicates the number of solid rocket boosters attached to the base of the rocket and can range from "0" through "3" with the 4-meter fairing, and "0" through "5" with the 5-meter fairing. As shown on the right, all layouts of solid boosters are asymmetrical. The third digit represents the number of engines on the Centaur stage, either "1" or "2". For example, an Atlas V 552 has a 5-meter fairing, 5 solid rocket boosters, and 2 Centaur engines, whereas an Atlas V 431 has a 4-meter fairing, 3 solid rocket boosters, and 1 Centaur engine.[27] As of October 2018, only the single-engine Centaur (SEC) has been used. The first launch using the dual-engine Centaur (DEC) upper stage is planned for 2019, when an Atlas V with no payload fairing and 2 strap on boosters will carry the Starliner vehicle for its first orbital test flight. It is scheduled for NET August 2019.

As of June 2015, all versions of the Atlas V, its design and production rights, and intellectual property rights are owned by ULA and Lockheed Martin.[28]


List date: October 17, 2018[29] Mass to LEO numbers are at an inclination of 28.5°.

Version Fairing CCBs SRBs Upper stage Payload to LEO, kg Payload to GTO, kg Launches to date Base price
401 4 m 1 SEC 9,797[30] 4,750[30] 38 $109M[1]
402 4 m 1 DEC 12,500[31] 0
411 4 m 1 1 SEC 12,150[30] 5,950[30] 5 $115M[1]
412 4 m 1 1 DEC 0
421 4 m 1 2 SEC 14,067[30] 6,890[30] 7 $123M[1]
422 4 m 1 2 DEC 0
431 4 m 1 3 SEC 15,718[30] 7,700[30] 3 $130M[1]
501 5.4 m 1 SEC 8,123[30] 3,775[30] 6 $120M[1]
502 5.4 m 1 DEC 0
511 5.4 m 1 1 SEC 10,986[30] 5,250[30] 0 $130M[1]
512 5.4 m 1 1 DEC 0
521 5.4 m 1 2 SEC 13,490[30] 6,475[30] 2 $135M[1]
522 5.4 m 1 2 DEC 0
531 5.4 m 1 3 SEC 15,575[30] 7,475[30] 3 $140M[1]
532 5.4 m 1 3 DEC 0
541 5.4 m 1 4 SEC 17,443[30] 8,290[30] 6 $145M[1]
542 5.4 m 1 4 DEC 0
551 5.4 m 1 5 SEC 18,814[30] 8,900[30] 9 $153M[1]
552 5.4 m 1 5 DEC 20,520[31] 0
Heavy (HLV / 5H1) 5.4 m 3 SEC 0
Heavy (HLV DEC / 5H2) 5.4 m 3 DEC 29,400 0
N22 (for Starliner)[32] None 1 2 DEC ~13,000[33]
(to ISS)


Since 2016 ULA has provided pricing for the Atlas V through its RocketBuilder website, advertising a base price for each rocket configuration, which ranges from $109 million for the 401 up to $153 million for the 551.[1] Each additional SRB adds an average of $6.8 million to the cost of the rocket. On top of the base price, commercial customers can also choose to purchase larger payload fairings or additional launch service options. NASA and Air Force launch costs are often higher than equivalent commercial missions, due to additional government accounting, analysis, and processing requirements. These government requirements can add $30–$80 million to the cost of a launch.[34]

Before 2016, ULA did not publicly advertise a price for Atlas V launches, and so cost data was limited to the few for which prices were disclosed. In 2010, NASA contracted with ULA to launch the MAVEN mission on an Atlas V 401 for approximately $187 million.[35] The 2013 cost of this configuration for the Air Force under their block buy of 36 rockets was $164 million.[36] In 2015, the TDRS-M mission aboard this same rocket cost NASA $132.4 million.[37]

The Atlas V historically was not cost-competitive for most commercial launches, where launch costs were about $100 million per satellite to GTO in 2013.[38] The price drop from approximately $180 million to $109 million has been in large part due to competitive pressure that emerged in the launch services marketplace during the early 2010s, with United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno stating that ULA needs at least 2 commercial missions each year in order to stay profitable.[39] Still, the company is not attempting to win these missions on purely lowest purchase price, stating that it "would rather be the best value provider".[40] ULA suggests that customers will have much lower insurance and delay costs because of the high Atlas V reliability and schedule certainty, making overall customer costs close to that of using competitors like the SpaceX Falcon 9.[41]

Atlas V launches[edit]

Last updated on October 20, 2018

# Date and time(UTC) Type Serial no. Launch site Payload Type of payload Orbit Outcome Remarks
1 August 21, 2002
401 AV-001 CCAFS SLC-41 Hot Bird 6 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[42] First Atlas V launch
2 May 13, 2003
401 AV-002 CCAFS SLC-41 Hellas Sat 2 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[43] First satellite for Greece and Cyprus
3 July 17, 2003
521 AV-003 CCAFS SLC-41 Rainbow 1 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[44] First Atlas V 500 launch
First Atlas V launch with SRBs
4 December 17, 2004
521 AV-005 CCAFS SLC-41 AMC 16 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[45]
5 March 11, 2005
431 AV-004 CCAFS SLC-41 Inmarsat 4-F1 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[46] First Atlas V 400 launch with SRBs
6 August 12, 2005
401 AV-007 CCAFS SLC-41 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mars orbiter Heliocentric to
Success[47] First Atlas V launch for NASA
7 January 19, 2006
551 AV-010 CCAFS SLC-41 New Horizons Pluto and Kuiper Belt probe Hyperbolic Success[48] Boeing Star 48B third stage used, first Atlas V launch with a third stage
8 April 20, 2006
411 AV-008 CCAFS SLC-41 Astra 1KR Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[49]
9 March 9, 2007
401 AV-013 CCAFS SLC-41 Space Test Program-1 6 military research satellites LEO Success[50]
10 June 15, 2007
401 AV-009 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-194 (NRO L-30/NOSS-4-3A & B) Two NRO Reconnaissance satellites LEO Partial failure[51] First Atlas V flight for the National Reconnaissance Office[52] Payload reached lower than intended orbit; customer declared success.[51]
11 October 11, 2007
421 AV-011 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-195 (WGS SV-1) Military communications satellite GTO Success[53] Valve replacement[54]
12 December 10, 2007
401 AV-015 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-198 (NRO L-24) NRO reconnaissance satellite Molniya Success[55]
13 March 13, 2008
411 AV-006 VAFB SLC-3E USA-200 (NRO L-28) NRO reconnaissance satellite Molniya Success[56] First Atlas V launch from Vandenberg[56]
14 April 14, 2008
421 AV-014 CCAFS SLC-41 ICO G1 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[57]
  • Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services launch
  • Heaviest payload launched by an Atlas until the launch of MUOS-1 in 2012.
  • Largest comsat in the world at time of launch until the launch of TerreStar-1 in 2009.
15 April 4, 2009
421 AV-016 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-204 (WGS SV2) Military communications satellite GTO Success[58]
16 June 18, 2009
401 AV-020 CCAFS SLC-41 LRO/LCROSS Lunar exploration HEO to Lunar Success[59] First Centaur stage to impact on the Moon.
17 September 8, 2009
401 AV-018 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-207 (PAN) Military communications satellite[60] GTO[60] Success[61]
18 October 18, 2009
401 AV-017 VAFB SLC-3E USA-210 (DMSP 5D3-F18) Military weather satellite LEO Success[62]
19 November 23, 2009
431 AV-024 CCAFS SLC-41 Intelsat 14 Commercial communications satellite GTO Success[63] LMCLS launch
20 February 11, 2010
401 AV-021 CCAFS SLC-41 SDO Solar telescope GTO Success[64]
21 April 22, 2010
501 AV-012 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-212 (X-37B OTV-1) Military orbital test vehicle LEO Success[65] A piece of the external fairing did not break up on impact, but washed up on Hilton Head Island.[66]
22 August 14, 2010
531 AV-019 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-214 (AEHF-1) Military communications satellite GTO Success[67]
23 September 21, 2010
501 AV-025 VAFB SLC-3E USA-215 (NRO L-41) NRO reconnaissance satellite LEO Success[68]
24 March 5, 2011
501 AV-026 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-226 (X-37B OTV-2) Military orbital test vehicle LEO Success[69]
25 April 15, 2011
411 AV-027 VAFB SLC-3E USA-229 (NRO L-34) NRO reconnaissance satellite LEO Success[70]
26 May 7, 2011
401 AV-022 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-230 (SBIRS-GEO-1) Missile Warning satellite GTO Success[71]
27 August 5, 2011
551 AV-029 CCAFS SLC-41 Juno Jupiter orbiter Hyperbolic to
28 November 26, 2011
541 AV-028 CCAFS SLC-41 Mars Science Laboratory Mars rover Hyperbolic
(Mars landing)
Success[73] First launch of the 541 configuation[74]
Centaur entered orbit around the sun[75]
29 February 24, 2012
551 AV-030 CCAFS SLC-41 MUOS-1 Military communications satellite GTO Success[76]
  • 200th Centaur launch[77]
  • Heaviest payload launched by an Atlas until launch of MUOS-2
30 May 4, 2012
531 AV-031 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-235 (AEHF-2) Military communications satellite GTO Success[78]
31 June 20, 2012
401 AV-023 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-236 (NROL-38) NRO reconnaissance satellite GTO Success[79] 50th EELV launch
32 August 30, 2012
401 AV-032 CCAFS SLC-41 Van Allen Probes (RBSP) Van Allen Belts exploration HEO Success[80]
33 September 13, 2012
401 AV-033 VAFB SLC-3E USA-238 (NROL-36) NRO reconnaissance satellites LEO Success[81]
34 December 11, 2012
501 AV-034 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-240 (X-37B OTV-3) Military orbital test vehicle LEO Success[82]
35 January 31, 2013
401 AV-036 CCAFS SLC-41 TDRS-K (TDRS-11) Data relay satellite GTO Success[83]
36 February 11, 2013
401 AV-035 VAFB SLC-3E Landsat 8 Earth Observation satellite LEO Success[84] First West Coast Atlas V Launch for NASA
37 March 19, 2013
401 AV-037 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-241 (SBIRS-GEO 2) Missile Warning satellite GTO Success[85]
38 May 15, 2013
401 AV-039 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-242 (GPS IIF-4) Navigation satellite MEO Success[86] *First GPS satellite launched by an Atlas V
  • Longest Atlas V mission to date
39 July 19, 2013
551 AV-040 CCAFS SLC-41 MUOS-2 Military Communications satellite GTO Success[87]
40 September 18, 2013
531 AV-041 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-246 (AEHF-3) Military communications satellite GTO Success[88]
41 November 18, 2013
401 AV-038 CCAFS SLC-41 MAVEN Mars orbiter Hyperbolic to
42 December 6, 2013
501 AV-042 VAFB SLC-3E USA-247 (NROL-39) NRO reconnaissance satellite LEO Success[90]
43 January 24, 2014
401 AV-043 CCAFS SLC-41 TDRS-L (TDRS-12) Data relay satellite GTO Success[91]
44 April 3, 2014
401 AV-044 VAFB SLC-3E USA-249 (DMSP-5D3 F19) Military weather satellite LEO Success[92] 50th RD-180 launch
45 April 10, 2014
541 AV-045 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-250 (NROL-67) NRO reconnaissance satellite GTO Success[93]
46 May 22, 2014
401 AV-046 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-252 (NROL-33) NRO reconnaissance satellite GTO Success[94]
47 August 2, 2014
401 AV-048 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-256 (GPS IIF-7) Navigation satellite MEO Success[95]
48 August 13, 2014
401 AV-047 VAFB SLC-3E WorldView-3 Earth imaging satellite LEO Success[96]
49 September 17, 2014
401 AV-049 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-257 (CLIO) Military communications satellite[97] GTO[97] Success[98]
50 October 29, 2014
401 AV-050 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-258 (GPS IIF-8) Navigation satellite MEO Success[99] 50th Atlas V launch
51 December 13, 2014
541 AV-051 VAFB SLC-3E USA-259 (NROL-35) NRO reconnaissance satellite Molniya Success[100] First use of the RL-10C engine on the Centaur stage
52 January 21, 2015
551 AV-052 CCAFS SLC-41 MUOS-3 Military Communications satellite GTO Success[101]
53 March 13, 2015
421 AV-053 CCAFS SLC-41 MMS Magnetosphere research satellites HEO Success[102]
54 May 20, 2015
501 AV-054 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-261 (X-37B OTV-4/AFSPC-5) Military orbital test vehicle LEO Success[103]
55 July 15, 2015
401 AV-055 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-262 (GPS IIF-10) Navigation satellite MEO Success[104]
56 September 2, 2015
551 AV-056 CCAFS SLC-41 MUOS-4 Military Communications satellite GTO Success[105]
57 October 2, 2015
421 AV-059 CCAFS SLC-41 Mexsat-2 Communications satellite GTO Success[106]
58 October 8, 2015
401 AV-058 VAFB SLC-3E USA-264 (NROL-55) NRO reconnaissance satellites LEO Success[107]
59 October 31, 2015
401 AV-060 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-265 (GPS IIF-11) Navigation satellite MEO Success[108]
60 December 6, 2015
401 AV-061 CCAFS SLC-41 Cygnus CRS OA-4 ISS logistics spacecraft LEO Success[109] First Atlas rocket used to directly support the ISS program
61 February 5, 2016
401 AV-057 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-266 (GPS IIF-12) Navigation satellite MEO Success[110]
62 March 23, 2016
401 AV-064 CCAFS SLC-41 Cygnus CRS OA-6 ISS logistics spacecraft LEO Success[111] First stage shut down early but did not affect mission outcome
63 June 24, 2016
551 AV-063 CCAFS SLC-41 MUOS-5 Military Communications satellite GTO Success[112]
64 July 28, 2016
421 AV-065 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-267 (NROL-61) NRO reconnaissance satellite GTO Success[113]
65 September 8, 2016
411 AV-067 CCAFS SLC-41 OSIRIS-REx Asteroid sample return Heliocentric Success[114]
66 November 11, 2016
401 AV-062 VAFB SLC-3E WorldView-4 (GeoEye-2) + 7 NRO cubesats Earth Imaging, cubesats SSO Success[115] LMCLS launch
67 November 19, 2016
541 AV-069 CCAFS SLC-41 GOES-R (GOES-16) Meteorology GTO Success[116] 100th EELV launch
68 December 18, 2016
431 AV-071 CCAFS SLC-41 EchoStar 19 (Jupiter 2) Communication satellite GTO Success[117] LMCLS launch
69 January 21, 2017
401 AV-066 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-273 (SBIRS GEO-3) Missile Warning satellite GTO Success[118]
70 March 1, 2017
401 AV-068 VAFB SLC-3E USA-274 (NROL-79) NRO Reconnaissance Satellite LEO Success[119]
71 April 18, 2017
401 AV-070 CCAFS SLC-41 Cygnus CRS OA-7 ISS logistics spacecraft LEO Success[120]
72 August 18, 2017
401 AV-074 CCAFS SLC-41 TDRS-M (TDRS-13) Data relay satellite GTO Success[121]
73 September 24, 2017
541 AV-072 VAFB SLC-3E USA-278 (NROL-42) NRO Reconnaissance Satellite Molniya Success[122]
74 October 15, 2017
421 AV-075 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-279 (NROL-52) NRO Reconnaissance satellite GTO Success[123]
75 January 20, 2018
411 AV-076 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-282 (SBIRS GEO-4) Missile Warning satellite GTO Success[124]
76 March 1, 2018
541 AV-077 CCAFS SLC-41 GOES-S (GOES-17) Meteorology GTO Success[125] Expended the 100th AJ-60 SRB
77 April 14, 2018
551 AV-079 CCAFS SLC-41 AFSPC-11 Military comsat GEO Success[126]
78 May 5, 2018
401 AV-078 VAFB SLC-3E InSight MarCO Mars lander; 2 CubeSats Hyperbolic
(Mars landing)
Success[127] First interplanetary mission from VAFB; first interplanetary CubeSats.
79 October 17, 2018,
551 AV-073 CCAFS SLC-41 USA-288 (AEHF-4) Military comsat GTO Success[128][129] 250th Centaur

For planned launches, see List of Atlas launches (2010–2019) and List of Atlas launches (2020–2029).

Notable missions[edit]

The first payload launched with an Atlas V was the Hot Bird 6 communications satellite launched from Cape Canaveral in a 401 configuration. It carried the communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on August 21, 2002.

On August 12, 2005, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Centaur upper stage of the rocket completed its burns over a 56-minute period and placed MRO into an interplanetary transfer orbit towards Mars[47]

On January 19, 2006, New Horizons was launched by a Lockheed Martin Atlas V 551 rocket, with a third stage added to increase the heliocentric (escape) speed. This was the first launch of the Atlas V 551 configuration, which uses five solid rocket boosters, and the first Atlas V with a third stage.

On December 6, 2015, Atlas V lifted its heaviest payload to date into orbit – a 16,517-pound (7,492 kg) Cygnus resupply craft.[130]

On September 8, 2016, the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission was launched on an Atlas V rocket in the 411 configuration. It will arrive at the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return with a sample ranging from 60 grams to 2 kilograms in 2023.

The first four Boeing X-37B spaceplane missions were successfully launched with the Atlas V. The X-37B is a reusable unmanned spacecraft operated by USAF, which is also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) that can autonomously conduct landings from orbit to a runway.[131] The first four X-37B launches with the Atlas V were conducted from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with subsequent landings taking place on a 15,000-foot (4,600 m) runway located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California that was originally designed for Space Shuttle return from orbit operations.

Mission success record[edit]

In its more than 75 launches (as of March 2018), starting with its maiden launch in August 2002, Atlas V has had an almost perfect mission success rate. This is in contrast to the industry failure rate of 5–10%.[132] However, there have been two anomalous flights that – while still successful in their mission – prompted a grounding of the Atlas fleet while investigations determined the root cause of their problems.

The first anomalous event in the use of the Atlas V launch system occurred on June 15, 2007, when the engine in the Centaur upper stage of an Atlas V shut down early, leaving its payload – a pair of NRO L-30 ocean surveillance satellites – in a lower than intended orbit. The cause of the anomaly was traced to a leaky valve, which allowed fuel to leak during the coast between the first and second burns. The resulting lack of fuel caused the second burn to terminate 4 seconds early.[133] Replacing the valve led to a delay in the next Atlas V launch.[54] However, the customer (the National Reconnaissance Office) categorized the mission as a success.[134][135]

A flight on March 23, 2016, suffered an underperformance anomaly on the first-stage burn and shut down 5 seconds early. The Centaur proceeded to boost the Orbital Cygnus payload, the heaviest on an Atlas to date, into the intended orbit by utilizing its fuel reserves to make up for the shortfall from the first stage. This longer burn cut short a later Centaur disposal burn.[136] An investigation of the incident revealed that this anomaly was due to a fault in the main engine mixture-ratio supply valve, which restricted the flow of fuel to the engine. The investigation and subsequent examination of the valves on upcoming missions led to a delay of the next several launches.[137]

Proposed development options[edit]

Replacement for the RD-180 engine[edit]

Geopolitical and US political considerations in 2014 led to an effort by ULA to consider the possible replacement of the Russian-supplied RD-180 engine used on the first-stage booster of the Atlas V. Formal study contracts were issued in June 2014 to a number of US rocket-engine suppliers.[138] The results of those studies have led to decisions by ULA to develop a new launch vehicle to replace the Atlas V and Delta IV existing fleet.

The Aerojet AR1 rocket engine under development as of 2017, is a backup plan to the successor rocket Vulcan, to re-engine the Atlas V.[139] In addition to the ULA backup plan, a consortium of companies including Aerojet and Dynetics seek license production or rights to the Atlas V to manufacture it using the AR1 engine in place of the RD-180. This proposal has been declined by ULA.[140] The private company Blue Origin is developing the BE-4 LOX/methane engine as an RD-180 replacement.

Atlas V Heavy[edit]

In 2006, ULA offered an Atlas V Heavy option that would use three Common Core Booster (CCB) stages strapped together to lift a 29,400 kg payload to low Earth orbit.[141] ULA stated at the time that 95% of the hardware required for the Atlas V Heavy has already been flown on the Atlas V single-core vehicles.[5] The lifting capability of the proposed rocket was to be roughly equivalent to the Delta IV Heavy,[5] which utilizes RS-68 engines developed and produced domestically by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

A 2006 report, prepared by the RAND Corporation for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, stated that Lockheed Martin had decided not to develop an Atlas V heavy-lift vehicle (HLV).[142] The report recommended for the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office to "determine the necessity of an EELV heavy-lift variant, including development of an Atlas V Heavy", and to "resolve the RD-180 issue, including coproduction, Stockpile, or U.S. development of an RD-180 replacement".[143]

As of March 2010, ULA stated that the Atlas V Heavy configuration could be available to customers 30 months from the date of order.[5]

In March 2015, Bruno confirmed on Twitter that the Atlas V Heavy will not be developed, instead they would be focusing on the Next Gen Launch System (Vulcan).[citation needed]

Atlas Phase 2[edit]

With the merger of Boeing and Lockheed Martin space operations into United Launch Alliance in the mid-2000s, the Atlas V program became able to share the tooling and processes for 5-meter-diameter stages used on Delta IV. This led to a concept being put forth to combine Delta IV production processes into a new Atlas design: the "Atlas Phase 2". If the first stage were to be 5 meters in diameter, such a stage could accept dual RD-180 engines. The conceptual heavy-lift vehicle was known as Atlas Phase 2 or "PH2".

An Atlas V PH2-Heavy (three 5 m stages in parallel; six RD-180s) along with Shuttle-derived, Ares V and Ares V Lite, was considered as a theoretically possible heavy lifter for use in future space missions in the Augustine Report.[144] If built, the Atlas PH2 Heavy was projected to be able to launch a payload mass of approximately 70 metric tons into an orbit of 28.5° inclination.[144] None of the Atlas V Phase 2 proposals reached development.

GX rocket[edit]

The Atlas V Common Core Booster was to have been used as the first stage of the joint US-Japanese GX rocket, which was scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2012.[145] GX launches would have been from the Atlas V launch complex at Vandenberg AFB, SLC-3E.

In December 2009, the Japanese government decided to cancel the GX project.[146]


The Vulcan rocket is the intended replacement for the Atlas V and Delta IV.[147]

In September 2014, ULA announced that it has entered into a partnership with Blue Origin to develop the BE-4 LOX/methane engine to replace the RD-180 on a new first-stage booster. As the Atlas V core is designed around RP-1 fuel and cannot be retrofitted to use a methane-fueled engine, a new first stage must be developed. This booster will be derived from the first-stage tankage of the Delta IV, using two of the 2,400-kilonewton (550,000 lbf)-thrust BE-4 engines.[138][148][149] The engine is already in its third year of development by Blue Origin, and ULA expects the new stage and engine to start flying no earlier than 2019.

Vulcan will initially use the same Centaur upper stage as on Atlas V, later to be upgraded to ACES.[148] It will also use a variable number of optional solid rocket boosters, called the GEM 63XL, derived from the new solid boosters planned for Atlas V.[26]

Photo gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "V" is the roman numeral 5 and is pronounced as such.


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