Air Force Space Command boss Gen. William Shelton said he would be “absolutely stunned” if any future Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite suffered from propulsion problems similar to those that beset the first $2 billion spacecraft in the series. “There have been a lot of safeguards [put in place] and I’m more than satisfied,” said Shelton during a meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17. “That was a big embarrassment to a lot of people,” he said of the saga after AEHF-1’s liquid apogee engine malfunctioned after the satellite reached orbit in August 2010. Blockage in a fuel line caused the anomaly. Shelton said the Air Force has “gone through every propulsion module and looked for those kinds of problems, specifically,” since then to prevent a repeat. AEHF-2 reached its intended operational orbit without incident, service officials have said. (For more Shelton coverage, see Air Force Moves Forward on Hosted Payloads.)
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.