A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is in final preparations to launch the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-6) communications satellite for the U.S. Space Force (USSF)’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC).
The launch of AEHF-6, now scheduled for March 26, will mark the 138th launch for ULA and the first National Security Space mission for the Space Force. The launch is planned for 2:57 p.m. EDT at the opening of a two-hour launch window from Space Launch Complex-41 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (AFS) in Florida.
“In the current dynamic environment, national security is of utmost importance,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “We are proud to launch the first National Security Space mission for the U.S. Space Force and look forward to delivering the final AEHF asset to support our nation’s national defense and the warfighter community.”
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 for our nation—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.
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.
This launch will mark the 500th flight of the RL10 engine, which has flown hundreds of times on ULA and ULA heritage vehicles, and supported ULA’s launches of military, civil and commercial satellites, and has sent spacecraft to explore every planet in our solar system.
The AEHF system, developed by Lockheed Martin, will augment and improve on the already existing Milstar constellation by providing enhanced survivable, global, secure, protected, and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets.
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).