A $1.8 billion US Air Force communications satellite has been deployed successfully. The fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-4) satellite was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this morning.
The Atlas V carrying the AEHF-4 satellite lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 04:15 UTC (00:15 local) this morning. Approximately three and a half hours later, ULA officials confirmed that the satellite had separated from the rocket’s upper stage and entered into its geosynchronous transfer orbit successfully.
The AEHF-4 is the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite launched by the Air Force. The first was launched in 2010 with the second and third following in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Once operational, the AEHF-4 satellite will join its three predecessors in geosynchronous orbit. According to ULA, the satellite will provide “global coverage for survivable, protected, anti-jam communications to strategic commanders and tactical warfighters on land, at sea and in the air.” An additional two AEHF satellites are expected to be launched next year.
This morning’s launch utilised the ULA Atlas V launch vehicle in its 551 configuration. This configuration features 5 solid-fuel strap-on boosters and a 5.4-meter fairing. The vehicle is the second most frequently launched Atlas V configuration well behind the popular 401 configuration. It is estimated that a 551 launch costs approximately $150 million. However, given the national security nature of this morning’s launch, the price tag was likely significantly higher.
The next ULA launch is currently scheduled for November 29. The launch will deploy the NROL-71 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket.