The U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) successfully launched the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite at 4:18 p.m. EDT, March 26, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The satellite was carried to orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 launch vehicle. This lift-off marks the 11th Atlas V 551 launch, 83rd Atlas V launch and the first for a U.S. Space Force mission.
The satellite successfully separated from the launch vehicle nearly six hours after liftoff and will now undergo approximately120 days of orbit-raising operations, followed by approximately 30 days of on-orbit testing. After these critical events, SMC will be ready to transfer Satellite Control Authority of AEHF-6 to Space Operations Command, which is expected to occur in six to eight months after launch.
“We are thrilled to accomplish this important milestone on the last AEHF satellite. The combined integrated team worked diligently to ensure the success of this mission. The satellite is operating as expected and is ready to undergo orbit raising and on-orbit testing for the next several months after which it will provide mission critical capabilities to our warfighters,” said Col. John Dukes, senior materiel leader, SMC Production Corps’ Geosynchronous Orbit Division.
The SMC-procured AEHF satellite is a joint service communications system that provides connectivity across the spectrum of mission areas, including land, air and naval warfare; special operations; strategic nuclear operations; strategic defense; theater missile defense and space operations and intelligence. The AEHF system enhances the current Milstar constellation, augmenting and improving upon the capabilities of Milstar, and expanding the MILSATCOM architecture to enable enhanced capacity and flexibility. AEHF also provides secure communications for our international partners Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Australia.
SMC procured AEHF-6 from Lockheed Martin Space as a part of a Firm Fixed Price Contract block buy, which included AEHF-5, for a total cost of $2.15 billion for both satellites. By buying parts for both satellites at the same time, the total costs for two satellites were reduced.
SMC plans, acquires and sustains space-based global communications supporting the President, Secretary of Defense and combat forces. The entire SMC MILSATCOM architecture consists of satellites, terminals and control stations, which provide communications for more than 16,000 air, land and sea platforms.