A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 rocket lifted off with the AEHF-6 military communications satellite for the U.S. Space Force (USSF)’s first dedicated mission.
The lift-off occurred at 4:18 p.m. EDT (2018 UTC) from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
“The success of today’s launch is the culmination of years of dedication, hard work and teamwork with several of our mission partners,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, U.S. Space Force. “From our acquisition experts at SMC, to the satellite developers at Lockheed Martin, to the aircrews at Air Mobility Command, and our range support teams at the 45th Space Wing, we greatly appreciate the collaboration with the ULA team who all contributed to this historic, first National Security Space launch under the U.S. Space Force,” added Raymond. “On behalf of the U.S. Space Force and all of our joint warfighters who depend on protected SATCOM, thank you and congratulations on today’s successful launch.”
“Congratulations to the U.S. Space Force on liftoff of your first mission,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “We are proud to be your partner for this historic mission and honored to have launched the entire Lockheed Martin produced AEHF constellation on Atlas V rockets. We understand the critical importance of delivering protected communications to strategic command and tactical warfighters operating on ground, sea and air.”
Atlas V 551
The Atlas V 551 configuration vehicle includes a 5-meter large Payload Fairing (PLF) and stands at 197 ft. tall. The Atlas booster for this mission is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. Aerojet Rocketdyne provided the five AJ-60A solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and RL10C-1 engine for the Centaur upper stage.
Producing more than two and a half million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the Atlas V 551 configuration rocket is the most powerful in the Atlas V fleet. The 551 rocket has launched groundbreaking missions from the critically important MUOS (Mobile User Objective System) constellation to historic science missions including New Horizons, the first mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter.
The Atlas V 551 configuration first launched on January 19, 2006, and has launched 10 times to date.
This launch marked the 138th ULA mission and 86th dedicated to U.S. national security. It is the 83rd Atlas V and 11th to fly in the powerful 551 configuration. With the launch of AEHF-6, the RL10 engine has flown 500 times, including hundreds of times on ULA and ULA heritage vehicles.
The AEHF secure military communications system is built by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Space Force.
The AEHF-6 satellite is a sophisticated communications relay satellites that will provide the highest levels of protection for our nation’s most critical users. It features encryption, low probability of intercept and detection, jammer resistance and the ability to penetrate the electromagnetic interference caused by nuclear weapons, all essential when communications can be the top priority.
Atlas V rockets have launched all of the AEHF satellites, starting with AEHF-1 in 2010.
The AEHF program hit two milestones recently. On Jan. 6, the AEHF-4 satellite was accepted for operational use by U.S. Space Command and, on Feb. 3, the AEHF-5 satellite was transferred to Space Operations Command (SpOC).
ULA’s Next Launch
ULA’s next launch is the USSF-7 mission in support of the U.S. Space Force now scheduled in May 2020. This will mark the sixth flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6).