Next Generation Military Communications Satellite Launched for US Air Force

by Ken Kremer on May 5, 2012

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Blastoff of the Atlas V rocket carrying the highly advanced AEHF-2 military communications satellite for the US Air Force on May 4, 2012 from Pad 41 on Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The second satellite in the new constellation of next generation military communications satellites for the US Air Force was successfully launched to orbit today (May 4) atop a powerful Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex- 41 in Florida. It will provide worldwide highly secure communications between the President and the Armed Forces.

Blastoff of the expensive and highly capable $1.7 Billion satellite – dubbed Advanced Extremely High Frequency-2 (AEHF-2) – at the precisely appointed time of 2:42 p.m. EDT (1842 GMT) came after a suspect helium valve and spurious signals forced a scrub of the first launch attempt yesterday, May 3, causing a 24 hour postponement of the launch.

“The AEHF satellites will provide the backbone of protection for US strategic satellite communications,” Capt John Francis, of the Space & Missile Systems Center SATCOM Division, told Universe Today in an interview at the Florida launch site.

“I’m thrilled with today’s launch !” Francis told me after witnessing the liftoff.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster stands 197 feet tall. The liquid fueled first stage is powered by a Russian designed RD-180 engine augmented with three Aerojet solid rocket motors strapped on to the side of the first stage. The solids are jettisoned during ascent.

Atlas V rocket and the highly advanced AEHF-2 military communications satellite soar to space on May 4, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer


The extremely reliable Atlas V rockets boosted NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory and Juno Jupiter Orbiter to their interplanetary destinations in 2011.

AEHF-2 weighs approximately 13,600 pounds and was built by Lockheed Martin.

The spacecraft was successfully separated from the Centaur upper stage about 51 minutes after liftoff as planned and placed into a preliminary transfer orbit. The Centaur was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10A engine.

On board thrusters and the Hall current thruster electric propulsion system will maneuver the spacecraft over about the next three months to its final orbit about 22,300 miles above the equator.

The AEHF satellite family is a vastly improved and upgraded version of the Lockheed Martin-built Milstar constellation currently on-orbit.

“The AEHF constellation has 10 times more throughput compared to Milstar”, Capt. Francis explained.

“They will provide 24 hour near whole world coverage and have a 14 year lifetime.”

“AEHF-2 can maneuver in orbit. It will take about 100 days to reach its parking orbit and can move to theatre hot spots as needed to assist the local troops such as in Afghanistan”, said Francis.

Launch of AEHF-2 military communications satellite atop Atlas V rocket on May 4, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer


It will operate 24/7 and provide vastly improved global, survivable, highly secure, protected communications for warfighters operating on ground, sea and air platforms. AEHF will also serve America’s international partners including Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

AEHF-2 is the second satellite in a planned constellation of at least four satellites – and perhaps as many as six satellites – that the military says will eventually replace the aging Milstar system.

“The remaining AEHF satellites will be launched over the next 2 years”, Capt. Francis stated.

A single AEHF satellite provides greater total capacity than the entire five-satellite Milstar constellation. Individual user data rates will be increased five-fold, permitting transmission of tactical military communications, such as real-time video, battlefield maps and targeting data. In addition to its tactical mission, AEHF also provides the critical survivable, protected, and endurable communications links to national leaders including presidential conferencing in all levels of conflict.

The satellite system is used by all levels of the US Government from soldiers in the field in Afghanistan to President Obama in the White House.

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com

Ja Mes May 5, 2012 at 5:51 PM

The U.S. can afford to launch spacecraft if they support empire sustaining violence, but not if they advance the development of the human species.

zkank May 6, 2012 at 2:42 PM

You can enjoy your freedomes and uncensored internet use and expensive toys thanks to a strong military.

Direct me to your last criticism of a China military launch. Or Iran’s nuclear development threat. Or North Korea’s constant war taunting.
I’d like to read that – maybe I will discover that it’s actually YOU I should thank for our relative peace and security.

(Shouldn’t you be occupying something, now that the weather is nice?)

Dunc Kaas May 10, 2012 at 12:39 PM

how come we have a tiny military (at the wonderfull costs of 4billion euros a year)
yet we have allot more freedoms and are closer to an actual democracy then the US ever will be?
its not just military power that gives you what you have. Not by a long shot.
well, maybe the US does nowadays, as they created ALLOT of enemies ever since their power hungry madness began with the WW2.

Ja Mes May 5, 2012 at 6:30 PM

The annual US military budget is 680 Billion dollars. NASA’s is 18 Billion dollars…

Atanu Maulik May 6, 2012 at 8:15 AM

The US government has a constitutional obligation to maintain the US military. But that does not apply to NASA. Thanks to the US military preserving the liberal democratic world order, everything else becomes possible.

MarcVader May 6, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Thanks to the US military preserving the liberal democratic world order, everything else becomes possible.

That’s the most ridiculous statement I’ve read in a long time.

Dunc Kaas May 10, 2012 at 12:36 PM

Well, they do actually allot of stuff the rest of the world refuses too get mingled in. Altho that budget could very easily be allot lower and its allot of wasted billions.

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backinbowl May 5, 2012 at 7:42 PM

While our physical and service infrastructure – transportation, roads, bridges, sewers , power etc. – is decaying, many millions of American are jobless, hungry and/or homeless, access to medical care is considered an expensive privilege, the country’s education system is in total disarray, national income disparity is at an all-time high, and our inner cities continue to be hotbeds of violence, THIS kind of provocative tomfoolery is exactly what the government chooses to spend a huge percentage of its citizens’ hard-earned and ever scarcer taxpayer dollars on; indeed, it would seem that Alice’s upside-down Wonderland has finally come to us!

Olaf2 May 6, 2012 at 12:09 PM

A communication satellite is never wasted, especially when there is a disaster.
Also this money spent is pumped into the economy. It created jobs.

delphinus100 May 7, 2012 at 1:45 AM

A military communications satellite is ‘provocative tomfoolery…?’

Commercial satcoms are about a tenth the cost of this one, but have about the same operational life, and have to be hardened against active attempts to damage or otherwise deny their use, that their civil counterparts don’t have to deal with. There’s also less of a chance of multiple identical units that would lower unit costs somewhat through economies of scale.

Perhaps you would have the military return to carrier pigeons…?

TheDirtBoy May 6, 2012 at 5:04 AM

“Blastoff of the expensive and highly capable $1.7 Billion satellite….and have a 14 year lifetime.”

Does anyone else find this ridiculously wasteful?

Jason Kurant May 6, 2012 at 6:07 AM

Not at all.

zkank May 6, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Not at all.

Tony Power May 8, 2012 at 7:36 AM

Nope. $121m per year to provide secure data services in areas that have no other way of getting it? Could you provide Highspeed data to the mountains of Afghanistan or the middle of the pacific for less?

Breck1011 May 6, 2012 at 4:54 PM

The IRS gives 5 times that much money to illegal aliens on refunds for kids that they claim that don’t even live here every year. The IRS has known for years that millions of these illegals are getting 10 to 15,000 in refunds a year on fictitious children and income. But they don’t care. There is so much waste that we don’t even realize. And you guys want to complain about our military wanting to keep your butts safe? Get real.

Breck1011 May 6, 2012 at 4:59 PM

The IRS gives 5 times that much money every year to illegal aliens on refunds for kids that they claim. And those kids and many of the aliens don’t even live here. The IRS has known for years that millions of these illegals are getting 10 to 15,000 in refunds a year on fictitious children and income. But they don’t care. There is so much waste that we don’t even realize. And you guys want to complain about our military wanting to keep your butts safe? Get real.

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