ULA Launch $1.8 Billion Air Force AEHF-4 Satellite

The $1.8 billion Air Force AEHF-4 satellite blast off aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket.
An Atlas V 551 blasts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | Image credit: ULA

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.

The ULA Atlas V launches the Air Force AEHF-4 satellite.
An Atlas V 551 with the AEHF-4 satellite aboard rolls from the Vertical Integration Facility | Image credit: ULA

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.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.