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Cape Canaveral

Air Force Set to Launch First AEHF Satellite

By jason_rhian
NASA Watch
August 4, 2010
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CAPE CANVERAL – The U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch the first Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite (AEHF-1) atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on Aug. 12. The launch window will open at 7:13 a.m. it will close about 20 minutes later at 7:34 a.m. EDT. The launch is scheduled to take place at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC 41).

AEHF is designed to eventually replace the aging Milstar constellation of satellites and will ensure that military commanders have high-speed communications. This new, jam-proof system is the link between the president and the U.S. forces if there is a nuclear attack. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to both build the AEHF fleet of satellites and to construct the mission control center where the satellites will be operated from.
A number of U.S. allies are involved with the AEHF program and will be able to use the system once the satellites become operational. These partners include the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada.
When the system is complete it will consist of three functioning satellites and one on-orbit spare. These satellites are linked and are able to communicate with one another. They will provide the military with vital communications data such as video, maps and targeting information. When operational, the constellation of satellites will be operated by the
4th Space Operations Squadron, stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, CO.
The satellites will incorporate frequency-hopping technology that will prevent attempts to intercept signals transmitted from the satellite system. The AEHF system promises to provide an information transfer rate of 8.192 Mbit/s for each user. Milstar Low Data Rate (LDR) provided 75-2400 bits per second and Milstar Medium 4.8 Kbit/s – 1.544 Mbit/s. It is estimated that a single AEHF satellite will have greater capabilities than all of the Milstar satellites combined.
The launch was scheduled for July. 30 but was pushed back to Aug. 10 to allow technicians to review potential problems with the Atlas V’s fairing. The fairing is a protective cover that shields the rocket’s payload as it heads to orbit. The particular component in question controlled the fairing’s separation, if it had failed the satellite would have been trapped and the mission would have failed. This launch date was recently pushed back an additional two days to Aug. 12. These slips are not expected to impact other launches that are currently on the range’s manifest. Currently Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has a Falcon 9 launch scheduled for September and a ULA Delta IV launch is slated for October.
The second AEHF spacecraft is currently in the middle of its Final Integrated System Test (FIST). This test will check out all of the satellite’s capabilities. Meanwhile AEHF-3 is being prepared to undergo acoustic testing. This is one of several tests that will shake out any issues with the spacecraft’s design and work to make sure that the vehicle survives the high stresses of launch and the space environment. Both AEHF-2 and 3 are scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 2011.