United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully launched the fifth US Air Force Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite aboard an Atlas V.
“Our highest priority is to safely and reliably deliver national assets,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs prior to this morning’s launch. “We are proud to have successfully launched the first four AEHF satellites, and look forward to launching the newest addition to the constellation in support of our nation’s national defense and the warfighter community.”
The Atlas V was utilised in its 551 configuration, the rocket’s most powerful which includes a 5.4-metre fairing and 5 solid rocket boosters. With the $1.1-billion AEHF-5 satellite onboard, the rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:13 UTC this morning.
Approximately four and a half minutes after liftoff, the Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage separated from the rocket’s central core and its RL10C-1 engine was ignited. Following the completion of two of three planned burns, a small 12U CubeSat was deployed from the aft of the Centaur upper stage. The CubeSat is a US Air Force payload that, according to ULA was “designed to test new capabilities of small satellites used by US government agencies.”
Once the 12U CubeSat was deployed, the Centaur upper stage entered a five-hour coast phase. At 5 hours 36 minutes, the rocket’s upper stage completed a third and final burn. Finally, almost six hours after liftoff, the AEHF-5 was deployed safely into its designed.
The AEHF-5 satellite is the fifth addition to the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation. The satellites are built by Lockheed Martin and are used to relay secure communications for the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands. The first AEHF satellite was launched in 2006 and the most recent, AEHF-4 in October 2018. A sixth and final AEHF satellite is expected to launch later this year.