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Not all missions are to Mars: Defense rocket launch includes space weather study

Screenshot via United Launch Alliance

With space gazes fixed on Mars this week, an early morning launch scheduled out of Vandenberg Air Force Base has curiosities piqued a little closer to home.

A few cumulus clouds can't keep a rocket down, and United Launch Alliance's Atlas V NROL-36 has a date with space scheduled for just after midnight on Wednesday. 

The live simulcast of the launch begins Aug 2 at 12:20 a.m. on the ULA website. ULA is a Lockheed Martin and Boeing joint venture providing "access to space" for U.S. government missions.

Satnews, a satellite news website, posted technical details along with ULA's mission description that lays the launch on the National Reconnaissance Office in support of national defense.

Nearly a dozen smaller auxilary payloads, or "cubesats," will also be delivered to space as part of the launch. The cubesat missions will study "space weather and communication, space environment, debris mitigation, maritime shipping container tracking, and spaceflight safety and orbit refinement."