By Scott Prater
The first Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite reached orbit Oct. 24, following a 14-month long journey and signaling the dawn of a new era in protected communications.
The event marked the end of an adventurous trip for the satellite, which was originally scheduled to reach geosynchronous earth orbit 90 days after launching from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Aug. 14, 2010.
Shortly after launch, however, an anomaly in the vehicle’s bi-propellant propulsion system (called the Liquid Apogee Engine) disrupted its flight, according to a Space and Missile Systems Center news release.
Teams from SMC and project contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company began working on a contingency plan and quickly developed a scheme which enabled the satellite to reach its operational orbit, albeit on a much slower schedule. Operators initiated the new plan, which called for use of one of the satellite’s lower-thrust propulsion systems on Aug. 29.
The AEHF-1 represents the next-generation follow-on satellite to the MILSTAR protected communications constellation that will augment and improve MILSTAR’s capabilities. It will provide survivable, global, secure, protected and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. Users include National Security Council members and unified combatant commanders who control tactical and strategic forces at all levels of conflict.
“We are looking forward to incorporating the vastly improved capability of AEHF into our operations to further support our communication mission to our forces worldwide,” said Lt. Col. Scott Trinrud, 4th Space Operations Squadron commander.”
A single AEHF satellite has eight times the capacity of a single MILSTAR vehicle.
“Three AEHF vehicles are required to have the increased bandwidth globally,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Long, 4 SOPS director of operations.
In the meantime, the SMC said its contingency plan successfully raised AEHF-1 without diminishing its mission life, (14 years) and capability. Four satellites are planned to complete the constellation. The second satellite, AEHF-2, is preliminarily scheduled to launch during 2012.
“Checkout and testing of AEHF-1 will occur during the next 90 days,” Long said. “4 SOPS operators will be shadowing during the testing process in conjunction with Lockheed operators. After satellite control authority is passed on to us during late February 2011, we’ll take over primary operation.”