The Air Force is ready to launch the latest Advanced EHF satellite payload Aug. 8, after a component issue on the rocket caused a monthlong delay.
The Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built AEHF-5 payload continues to build out the service’s new protected tactical satellites communications constellation, which will replace the legacy Milstar systems that were launched between 1994 and 2003. The program of record consists of six satellites, the last of which is expected to be launched in March 2020, service officials told reporters Aug. 5.
The AEHF-5 launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket was originally scheduled for June 27 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. ULA – a launch venture between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin – announced June 24 that a delay would occur due to a vehicle battery failure discovered during final processing that caused the contractor to pull the suspect article from all of its launch vehicles (Defense Daily, July 24).
ULA is in the process of incorporating changes to that hardware, said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president for government and commercial programs, during a media call Monday. The changes are “relatively minor, but we made those updates and we have gone through the appropriate testing and reinstalled that hardware on the vehicles,” he said.
No further delays are anticipated, he added. The scheduled July 25 launch of the Air Force’s latest GPS III satellite aboard a ULA Delta IV rocket was also delayed due to the component issue (Defense Daily, July 17). Now that the issue has been addressed, “we’re on track for Aug. 22 for the GPS on Delta IV,” Wentz said.
The launch on Thursday involves a few novel efforts led by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) out of Los Angeles Air Force Base. The rocket is launching with a ULA-made Centaur Geosynchronous Orbit Kit, which “enables an orbital insertion much closer to the final mission orbit than a traditional geosynchronous transfer launch,” said Col. Shane Clark, AEHF-5 Mission Director, Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate. That will maximize the on-orbit capability of the AEHF-5 space vehicle, he said during the media call.
The AEHF team also integrated a multi-manifest space vehicle on the aft end of the Centaur, a first for the launch enterprises mission manifest office, Clark said. That payload is a 12U satellite whose mission involves testing out orbital debris tracking technologies, and will be separated from the rocket before separating the AEHF satellite – another first, Clark noted.
“We haven’t in the past separated rideshares before, but the mission design of this [launch] allows us to do that,” he added. Such a design allows SMC to maximize capability for large rockets that may have excess capability, he noted.