Dodging rain and high winds, an Atlas V rocket thundered into the early morning skies over Florida and successfully delivered the Air Force’s third Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communication satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The mission marked launch provider United Launch Alliance’s 75th launch, the 40th for the Atlas V EELV and a commendable 9th successful launch of the year for ULA. Delayed for just over an hour because of the weather, the mighty rocket blasted off on brilliant flame and booming thunder at 5:10 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral A.F.S.
“The United Launch Alliance team is proud to serve alongside our mission partners and privileged that the Air Force has entrusted the ULA team to deliver the critical national security capabilities provided by AEHF-3 to orbit for our soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines around the world,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.
This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle 531 configuration vehicle, which includes a 5-meter diameter RUAG Space payload fairing along with three Aerojet solid rocket motors attached to the Atlas booster. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A engine.
The satellite successfully separated from the launch vehicle approximately 51 minutes after liftoff and will now undergo approximately 110 days of orbit-raising operations, followed by approximately 60 days of on-orbit testing. At that point, AEHF-3 will be ready to transfer to the 14th Air Force for Satellite Control Authority.
“Today’s successful launch was the 75th since ULA was formed nearly seven years ago, the 40th Atlas V mission, and the fourth ULA launch in the last two months,” said Sponnick. “The ULA team and our many mission partners emphasize a one-launch-at-a-time focus on mission success along with a strong commitment to continuous improvement – these elements together are the keys to launching our customer’s missions successfully at this unprecedented tempo in a reliable and cost-effective manner.”
The commander of the 45th Space Wing, which controls Cape Canaveral A.F.s, praised the work of all those involved in making this launch a success.
“It is wonderful to witness the teamwork between our wing and all our partners involved in making this mission a success,” said Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno, who also served as the Launch Decision Authority for the launch from the Morrell Operations Center here at the Cape.
“This successful launch helps to ensure that vital communications will continue to bolster our nation’s military capabilities and showcases once again why the 45th Space Wing is the world’s premiere gateway to space,” she added.
AEHF is a joint service satellite communications system that will provide survivable, global, secure, protected, and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. The AEHF system is the follow-on to the Milstar system, augmenting, improving and expanding the Department of Defense’s Military Satellite Communications architecture. AEHF-1 was launched in August of 2010 and AEHF-2 was launched in May of 2012, both from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
AEHF-3 was procured from Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company by the MILSATCOM Systems Directorate, part of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. The MILSATCOM Systems Directorate plans, acquires and sustains space-based global communications in support of the president, secretary of defense and combat forces. The entire MILSATCOM enterprise consists of satellites, terminals and control stations and provides communications for more than 16,000 air, land and sea platforms.
“We are proud of the tremendous efforts by the combined ULA, Lockheed Martin, SMC and the 45th Space Wing military, government civilians and contractors team in making this launch such a success,” said Col. Rodney Miller, Protected SATCOM Division chief, Military Satellite Communications Systems Directorate. “The satellite is healthy and operating as expected. We have now turned our attention to maneuvering it into its final orbital location over the next several months and look forward to many years of service in providing critical communication capabilities to our warfighters around the world.”
Developed by the United States Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads, the EELV Program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.
ULA’s next launch is the Delta IV GPS IIF-5 mission for the Air Force scheduled Oct. 17 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
(Matthew Travis / Zero-G News)
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