High-Tech Military Satellite Launched From Florida Atop A ULA Atlas V Rocket

Aubrey GemignaniNASA via Getty Images

Earlier today, United Launch Alliance (ULA) fired up its workhorse Altas V rocket for the fifth time this year to deliver an advanced Air Force satellite into orbit.

The 197-foot-tall (60 meters) rocket blasted off into space in the early hours of the morning, launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:15 a.m. EDT (04:15 GMT), reports Spaceflight Now.

According to NASA Spaceflight, today’s launch saw the most powerful version of ULA’s rocket — the Atlas V 551 — soar to the skies with a high-tech military satellite dubbed AEHF-4.

Short for Advanced Extremely High Frequency 4, the spacecraft was built by U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin as part of a military satellite constellation created to “provide survivable, global, secure, and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea, and air assets,” U.S. Air Force officials said in a statement.

Fitted with jam-resistant technologies, the AEHF-4 satellite is highly resilient, being able to withstand even the impact of a nuclear burst. Designed to relay communications even through the electromagnetic radiation caused by a nuclear explosion, the AEHF-4 is far more secure than the Milstar satellites currently used by the U.S. military and surpasses their combined communications capacity, notes Space.

“On a really bad day, you really want to have this system in place,” said Mike Cacheiro, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of Protected Communications.

The AEHF-4 satellite was deployed by the Atlas V rocket 3.5 hours after launch and will settle into an orbit more than 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above the equator, notes Florida Today. The spacecraft weighs 13,600 pounds (6,168 kilograms) and was built to last for at least 14 years, reportedly costing about $1.8 billion to develop and manufacture.

“This fourth satellite will complete a worldwide ring of AEHF satellites to deliver global extended data rate (XDR) coverage for the U.S. Air Force and for the partner nations — Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom — that also connect to the AEHF network,” Cacheiro said in a statement from Lockheed Martin.

Those who missed the live coverage of the Atlas V launch can watch the webcast at the link below, courtesy of ULA.

The space company is scheduled to loft two more AEHF satellites for the Air Force, bringing the total number to six. The remaining two spacecraft will be taking the trip to Earth’s orbit atop an Atlas V 551 rocket as well.

Today’s flight was the 79th for the venerable Atlas V in the 16 years since ULA first launched the rocket and the eight for the 551 version of the space vehicle. The rocket is equipped with a Russian RD-180 main engine and uses two extra solid boosters on its 551 configurations, for a total of five boosters.

ULA is currently working on a new type of rocket known as Vulcan, for which the Air Force recently awarded the space company nearly $1 billion to develop. Unlike the Atlas V, the Vulcan uses all-domestic propulsion, meaning that ULA won’t have to rely on the Russian RD-180 main engine to fly the rocket.