Launch set for 5th military satellite in a new constellation for the Air Force

An artist’s rendering of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) Space Vehicle-1.


By CHABELI HERRERA | Orlando Sentinel | Published: August 7, 2019

The Air Force is getting close to launching the next-to-last communications satellite in a constellation that will bring improved connectivity for troops across the globe.

The fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite is expected to launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 41 between 5:44 a.m. and 7:44 a.m.

If it takes off successfully on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the satellite will bring the Air Force one step closer to completing the $15 billion AEHF project, which calls for six satellites in geosynchronous orbit, about 22,300 miles above Earth. The AEHF 5 satellite alone cost $1.1 billion.

The last satellite in the series is will be delivered next year, said Lockheed Martin spokesman Chip Eschenfelder.

The Lockheed Martin-built satellites have jam-resistant technology and provide better connectivity for troops on the ground, sea and air. They are designed to augment and ultimately replace the current set of military satellites, called MILSTAR, which went to space in the early 2000s.

According to ULA, “one AEHF satellite has greater capacity than the entire five-satellite MILSTAR constellation.” The previous satellites in the series launched in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018 also on Atlas V rockets.

The AEHF 5 mission was delayed from June 27 so that teams could replace a failed battery. It was then delayed again in mid-July due to an anomaly during component testing at a supplier, which caused concern about how it could affect the upcoming launch.

On a press call Monday, Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, said teams removed the suspect hardware from all of ULA’s launch vehicles and made “relatively minor” updates to the hardware.

“Our top priority is focusing on the customer hardware and insuring mission success and so as part of our standard procedure, when we had that acceptance test failure, we addressed it on all other vehicles,” Wentz said. “[We] don’t anticipate any further delays.”

And, with bad weather expected to clear from the Space Coast by Thursday, the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron is forecasting 70% favorable conditions for the upcoming launch with the primary concern being cloud cover. If the launch is delayed to Friday, conditions continue to improve to 80% “go" for launch.

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