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Watch an Atlas V rocket launch a missile warning satellite for US Space Force on Thursday

Update for 8 am ET: The United Launch Alliance has successfully launched an Atlas V rocket carrying the SBIRS GEO 6 missile early warning satellite. Read our full story on the launch.


United Launch Alliance (ULA) will launch a missile warning satellite for the U.S. Space Force (USSF) Thursday (Aug. 4) morning, and you can watch it live.

A 194-foot-tall (59 meters) Atlas V rocket is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida during a window spanning from 6:29 to 7:09 a.m. EDT (1029 to 1109 GMT). The rocket will carry the Space-Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Flight 6 (SBIRS Geo-6) satellite into orbit on behalf of the Space Force, completing the service's new critical missile detection and early warning system.

SBIRS Geo-6 was previously scheduled to launch on June 18 and July 31, but those attempts were delayed for unspecified reasons. Weather forecasters with the Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron have forecasted a 70% chance of favorable weather on Thursday morning, according to a ULA statement (opens in new tab).

Watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of ULA, or directly via the company (opens in new tab).

Related: Did Russia just launch a spacecraft to stalk a US spy satellite?

The SBIRS system, designed by Lockheed Martin (opens in new tab), is designed to replace the aging Defense Support Program (DSP) early warning satellites, the first of which launched over 50 years ago. Following a successful launch of SBIRS Geo-6 on Thursday, the SBIRS constellation will consist of three satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) and two additional classified satellites on highly elliptical orbits (HEO) around the poles. The first satellite in the constellation launched in 2011, and the most recent, SBIRS Geo-5, launched to orbit aboard an Atlas V in May 2021, also from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

SBIRS Geo-6 and the other GEO satellites in the system each feature a scanning infrared sensor that "continuously scans the Earth to provide 24/7 global strategic missile warning capability" for the U.S. defense and intelligence communities, according to a fact sheet (opens in new tab) released by the U.S. Air Force.

"This launch represents the conclusion of the production and launch phase, and the commencement of the satellites' critical missile detection and early warning mission," Maj. Matt Blystone, program manager at the Space Force's Space Systems Command (SSC), said at a pre-launch briefing on Monday (Aug. 1), according to Breaking Defense (opens in new tab).

SBIRS GEO-6 is ULA's fifth launch of 2022 and the third-to-last national security launch that will take place on an Atlas 5 rocket before the launch provider transitions to its new Vulcan Centaur. The Pentagon’s final two launches aboard an Atlas V are scheduled to take place in 2023. 

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Brett Tingley
Brett Tingley

Brett is a science and technology journalist who is curious about emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett's work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery, and more. Brett obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University and a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett is a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, an avid LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and two children.