The Air Force and Lockheed Martin last week successfully completed the first stage of raising the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite into its operational orbit, announced Air Force Space Command Officials. AEHF-2 has also successfully deployed its solar array to generate onboard electrical power, they said. The first-stage liquid apogee engine burn “marks the completion of approximately 60 percent of AEHF-2’s total orbit-raising activity,” said Col. Michael Sarchet, AEHF program manager, in AFSPC’s May 17 release. The crucial burn “raised the satellite above the Van Allen radiation belts and region of space with the densest space debris,” he added. Next up is the orbit-raising stage using the satellite’s Hall Current Thruster, which will gradually dampen AEHF’s current elliptical orbits until the satellite reaches its intended geosynchronous perch. AEHF-2 blasted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., on May 4. It joined AEHF-1, which earlier this year completed on-orbit testing. The AEHF constellation is meant to replace the military’s MILSTAR communications satellites.
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.