Atlas V Launches Second AEHF

The Atlas V with the AEHF-2 perched at its top, is bathed in floodlights on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral AFS on Wednesday night, May 2.

An Atlas V rocket rose atop a column of flame into the afternoon sky off Florida’s Space Coast Friday, May 4, carrying the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellite.

The Atlas, launched with the aid of three strap-on solid rocket motors, took less than an hour to place the nearly seven-ton payload into a highly elliptical transfer orbit that varies from more than 31,000 miles to as little as 140 miles above the Earth. Over the next three months, ground controllers will gradually circularize the orbit at 22,300 miles up.

An Atlas V rocket launches the AEHF-2 satellite on Friday, May 4.

“The vehicle lifted off of Space Launch Complex 41 here at the Cape right at the opening of the launch window at 2:42 p.m. this afternoon,” said Aerospace Vice President Ray Johnson, reporting from Florida on May 4. “After slipping the launch one day because of a ground problem, we had a very clean countdown today with no additional problems.”

Johnson added that he wanted “to congratulate the entire Atlas team on this success, and also congratulate the Advanced EHF-2 team as they are on the start of a very important mission.”

Six AEHF satellites will eventually replace the existing five-satellite Milstar constellation, providing secure and robust military communication capabilities.

The first AEHF satellite, launched in August, 2010, suffered a clogged fuel line that rendered its main propulsion system unusable. Aerospace engineers were part of a team that performed an astonishing rescue of the billion-dollar-plus spacecraft, using carefully calculated burns of its smaller thrusters over a period of 14 months to raise the satellite into a proper geosynchronous orbit.

Photos courtesy of United Launch Alliance.