By Scott Prater
David Madden, Military Satellite Communications Program Office director, first transferred satellite control authority of the vehicle to the 14th Air Force before authority made its way to the 50th Space Wing.
“It’s truly amazing, given the complexity of AEHF, how seamless and smooth this transfer of control actually is,” said Col. John Shaw, 50th Operations Group commander. “I attribute that to the outstanding teamwork between the MILSATCOM Program Office, 4 SOPS and our contractor partners.”
After accepting authority on behalf of 50 SW commander Col. James Ross, Shaw immediately delegated command and control of the vehicle to Lt. Col. Scott Trinrud, 4 SOPS commander.
“We are happy and proud to achieve this significant milestone along the path to full operations for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite,” Trinrud said.
The event marked the start of 4 SOPS’s command of the technologically advanced vehicle, which took an adventurous route to orbit following its launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Aug. 14, 2010. Shortly after launch, an anomaly in the spacecraft’s bi-propellant propulsion system (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 quickly developed a contingency plan, enabling the satellite to reach its operational orbit, albeit of a much slower pace. Operators used one of the vehicle’s lower-thrust propulsion systems to lift the satellite beginning in late August 2010. Nearly 13 months later, the vehicle reached its operational orbit and SMC personnel began testing and check out procedures.
The contingency plan worked so well that the AEHF recovery team, which included 50 SW and 4 SOPS members, earned Aviation Week and Space Technology’s 2012 Laureate Award for their effort.
Known as AEHF-1, the vehicle represents the next-generation follow-on satellite to the Milstar protected communications constellation and is designed to 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 the National Security Council members and unified combatant command commanders who control tactical and strategic forces at all levels of conflict, as well as international partners from the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.
A single AEHF satellite has eight times the capacity of a single Milstar vehicle. The SMC said its contingency plan successfully raised AEHF-1 without diminishing its designed 14-year mission life. Four satellites are currently planned to complete the constellation. The second vehicle, AEHF-2, has already been transported to Cape Canaveral.
“We are now looking forward to the integration of AEHF-2 into the constellation,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Long, 4 SOPS director of operations. “It’s planned to launch next month, so soon, we’ll be able to take full advantage of the advanced features of this new family of satellites.”