By Alex Polimeni
United Launch Alliance prepares to launch the Atlas V rocket with the AEHF-6 satellite, the first dedicated U.S. Space Force launch.
On Mar. 26, the final installment of the six-satellite constellation, valued at over 15 billion is expected to depart from Florida’s Space Coast.
“The delivery of the last AEHF satellite comes at an inflection point, as the first delivery of the USSF for launch,” said Lieutenant Colonel Paul La Tour, AEHF Space Segment materiel leader, in a press release.
AEHF is a highly secured, nuclear-hardened communications satellite, and would be used as the last resort system for the President to direct American troops in a nuclear war. The program began under the Air Force Space Command, and on its final launch, will fly as the first U.S. Space Force mission.
AEHF replaced the older Milstar satellites, launched from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s on the Titan IV rocket. A single AEHF satellite has more capacity than the entire five-satellite Milstar constellation, according to a Lockheed Martin factsheet.
“AEHF satellites play a critical role for the warfighter and the defense of our nation,” said John Dukes, senior materiel leader for the Space Production Corps’ Geosynchronous Orbit Division in an Air Force press release. “Space is fundamental to our way of life, our economy relies on space and this reliance will continue to grow.”
The program is also jointly funded by allied forces, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, and Australia; all reliant on the unique capabilities of AEHF. The first AEHF launch occurred in 2010. Since then, four other satellites have been launched, all atop an Atlas V rocket.
The AEHF-6 spacecraft was delivered to Titusville, Florida, on Jan. 12, to begin pre-launch processing and encapsulation inside the Atlas V’s payload fairing.
“The successful delivery of AEHF-6 is a significant achievement for the program, it brings us another step closer to delivering mission-critical capabilities to the warfighter,” said Cordell DeLaPena, Program Executive Officer for Space Production, in an Air Force press release. “AEHF is an important asset to our sea, air, and ground missions.”
Tomorrow, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V will be flying the most powerful configuration, its propel over 13,000 pounds. The Atlas V will begin its journey from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the launch site of all previous AEHF satellites.
AEHF-6 will mark the 83rd launch of the workhorse Atlas V rocket, and the 138th ULA launch, with 100 percent mission success.
The AEHF-6 launch will be visible from the Florida Tech campus, however, as the launch will occur during the daytime, nearby beaches, including Holland-Spessard beach and Jetty Park.