United Launch Alliance's Atlas V Sends Up New $1.8 Billion US Military Satellite

The early morning launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida successfully marked the 50th mission ULA completed for the US Air Force.

The early hours of Wednesday morning marked another successful launch for United Launch Alliance. The aerospace giant sent up its Atlas V AEHF-4 with smooth sailing and no hiccups, making the two-hour launch window seem unnecessary given the near-perfect conditions of the launch. 

ULA streamed the entire event live, and anyone who missed the event can watch the launch below: 

The Atlas V 551 rocket sent up a communications satellite from the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) line. The AEHF satellite was created by the US Air Force to provide more secure communications between US military leadership and ground forces deployed around the world. The satellite is worth an estimated $1.8 billion. 

"This newest satellite will give the AEHF system full global coverage to support U.S. and allied warfighters on land, at sea and in the air," ULA officials noted in its real-time updates. "AEHF-4 ensures worldwide Extended Data Rate (XDR) protected communications, offering 10 times more communications throughput than the legacy MILSTAR constellation."

These new satellites are replacing the Air Force's old Milstar constellation of satellites. Lockheed Martin was tasked with creating the new AEHF line. The Milstar satellites pale in comparison to the new AEHF lines; one AEHF satellite has more communications capabilities than five Milstar satellites combined. 

"It's an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for years to come," Lt. Gen. John Thompson of the USAF Space and Missiles Systems Center in Los Angeles said of AEHF-4 in a statement.

The launch took place at 12:15 a.m. EST in Cape Canaveral, Florida from Launchpad 41, briefly lighting up the night sky in central Florida. 

The clear skies meant thousands of Floridians could simply step outside their door and easily see the launch. 

About the Atlas V rocket

Atlas V rockets are some of the most reliable rockets in aerospace to date. They've been used to launch three other AEHF satellites with success in 2010, 2012, and 2013.

Today's launch marks the 79th launch for an Atlas V rocket. It's the ninth launch for the 551 configuration of the rocket. 

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The Atlas V contained an upper stage called the Centaur, which held some 12,300 gallons of the cryogenic propellant for three separate engine burns during tonight's launch. 

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Tonight's launch delivered the AEHF-4 after a three-and-a-half hour ascent, powered by three burns of the Centaur upper stage.

"AEHF-4 will be delivered into an optimized high-perigee, low-inclination geosynchronous transfer orbit..." ULA officials explained. "This orbit benefits the satellite by requiring less fuel to reach its final geosynchronous altitude."

Via: United Launch Alliance via YouTube

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