The first space mission has been launched for the U.S. Space Force, an additional sixth branch of the U.S. military created in 2019 by President Trump, with the goal of providing next-generation military communications back on Earth.
The mission comprises the AEHF-6 (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) communications satellite. Today at 4.18 P.M. Eastern Time, following a brief hold due to a hydraulics issue, the satellite was launched into space on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the satellite is designed to provide “vastly improved global, survivable, protected communications capabilities for strategic command and tactical warfighters operating on ground, sea and air platforms,” according to a statement from Lockheed.
“The jam-resistant system also serves international partners including Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.”
Along with other AEHF satellites, AEHF-6 will head towards geostationary orbit about 36,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface. It is the sixth and final AEHF satellite to be launched, with the others being launched between 2010 and 2019.
In its own statement, the ULA said the launch marked the 500th flight of its RL10 engine used on the Centaur upper stage of the rocket. The ULA also noted this particular configuration of the Atlas V rocket, known as 551, had launched ten times so far, including the launch of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on January 19, 2006.
The mission took place despite the coronavirus pandemic curtailing a lot of recent space activity, with multiple launches and missions having been delayed or postponed recently owing to the outbreak.
“In the current dynamic environment, national security is of utmost importance,” Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs, said in the statement.
“We are proud to launch the first National Security Space mission for the U.S. Space Force and look forward to delivering the final AEHF asset to support our nation’s national defense and the warfighter community.”
The Space Force is an additional branch of the U.S. military formally signed into law by President Trump in December 2019, an attempt to homogenize the space activities of the other branches.
Previously, space activities within the U.S. military were handled by various parts of branches, such as the U.S. Air Force. But with today’s launch, Trump’s goal of having a dedicated branch handling space activities moved a step closer to reality.