The U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense are joining in to take some never before done, first-steps regarding an upcoming satellite launch that includes the first DOD mission to fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and the first to use previously flown flight hardware.
Summer of 2019 heralds “Summer of Launch” for the Space and Missile Systems Center, the nation’s launch vehicle procurer of choice. SMC leads the Department of Defense launch community as the organization celebrates its momentous milestones over a 31-day period.
Space Test Program-2, scheduled to launch on June 24, will be the first DOD mission to fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and the first to use previously flown flight hardware. SpaceX is reusing the two side boosters from the Arabsat 6A Falcon Heavy mission flown on April 11, 2019, presenting SMC and SpaceX with a tremendous opportunity to gain insight into the process for refurbishing first-stage boosters on the Falcon family of rockets. This history-making and complex endeavor spotlights SMC’s collaboration with commercial spaceflight’s new entrants and its commitment to pursuing new, innovative ways of delivering reliable, responsive and leading-edge space capabilities to the Air Force, DOD and ultimately the Warfighter.
Just three days later, on June 27, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF)-5 mission, a direct insertion into Geostationary Earth Orbit, will lift off on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V using their five solid-booster configuration (AV-551). SMC ordered the Atlas V 551 for this mission, the most powerful Atlas rocket available, specifically to maximize the space vehicle’s resiliency and on-orbit capability. On the same AEHF-5 mission, SMC’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate - Mission Manifest Office, in partnership with NASA, will demonstrate two firsts: An accelerated launch integration capability via the EZ-1 satellite vehicle and a multi-manifested satellite vehicle separation prior to the primary space vehicle separation. This launch will mark the 10th Atlas V 551 launch and 80th Atlas V launch. National security space launches boast a perfect legacy of success – 76 out of 76 – due to SMC’s focus on ensuring all requirements are met through rigorous systems engineering and mission assurance.
On July 2, NASA will launch its Ascent Abort-2 mission, the third of five launches required for certification of the Orion spacecraft. This flight test is critical in demonstrating Orion’s launch abort system to ensure crew safety during ascent for deep-space missions, a prelude to manned trips to lunar and other destinations, including Mars. SMC/LE’s Rocket Systems Launch Program is providing the launch vehicle, a refurbished first stage motor from an SR118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile. The repurposed ICBM motor provides NASA with suitable reliability for the abort test at a cost savings, compared to alternatives.
Finally, on July 25, the GPS III SV02 mission will launch on United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Medium rocket. This will be the last “single-stick” Delta IV mission, ending a nearly two-decade-long era in which United Launch Alliance has successfully launched 24 Delta IV Mediums. Over the years the Delta IV has delivered a portfolio of critical warfighter capabilities to orbit including intelligence, military communications, defense meteorological services and GPS. These capabilities have supported the warfighter with the very best technology and information to dominate our adversaries in the land, sea, air and space domains.