SMC, mission partners deliver AEHF-6 to Florida

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  • SMC Public Affairs

The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center successfully delivered the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF)-6 satellite to the Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida, Jan. 12.

“The delivery of the last AEHF satellite comes at an inflection point, as the first delivery of the USSF for launch,” said Lt. Col. Paul La Tour, AEHF Space Segment materiel leader. 

“The successful delivery of AEHF-6 is a significant achievement for the program, it brings us another step closer to delivering mission critical capabilities to the warfighter,” said Mr. Cordell DeLaPena, Program Executive Officer for Space Production. “AEHF is an important asset to our sea, air, and ground missions and thanks to outstanding teamwork, innovation, and partnership we are ready to begin launch processing for the final AEHF space vehicle.” 

The enormous satellite was transported from the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Center satellite integration facility in Sunnyvale, California, via a C-5MSuper Galaxy aircraft, Jan. 11. The C-5 crew from the 22nd Airlift Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California, ensured the satellite was transported safely and according to the time sensitive schedule.

The C-5 was built to carry more cargo around the globe than any other plane.  It can lift more than a quarter million pounds, and the approximately 34,000-cubic-foot cargo bay is large enough to contain six helicopters.  The Air Force converted two C-5As to C-5C status, modifying them to carry “space containers” that safely transport satellites and other payloads.  This flight was a regular C-5M aircraft; however, the container carrying the satellite was specifically built for a C-5M and it fits in the cargo area with only inches to spare.

“The C-5M Super Galaxy provides an unmatched strategic airlift capability whether it be delivering cargo directly to the warfighter, in response to humanitarian crises, or for specialized outsized cargo like the transportation of this AEHF-6 satellite” said Capt. Adam Smith, 22nd Airlift Squadron pilot and aircraft commander for the AEHF-6 delivery.  “The whole “Double Deuce” (22AS) team takes great pride in delivering cargo to all of our users safely and efficiently; and make no mistake it is a team effort for not only the 22nd AS but also in partnership with the 60th Maintenance Group and the 312th Airlift Squadron from Air Force Reserve Command.”

“It’s not always the case for Special Assignment Airlift Missions to know what the cargo is, but for missions like this one where we know the impact it will have for the warfighter, it is especially fulfilling to be a part of.  The whole crew recognizes the impact and importance of making an on-time delivery and worked tirelessly to overcome setbacks that could have delayed getting AEHF-6 to destination as scheduled,” he said. 

As the anchor satellite of the constellation, AEHF-6 is now on the path for final space vehicle checkout before launch.

A combined government and contractor team is preparing to execute the final ground activities, including a Launch Base Confidence Test to verify satellite integrity after shipment, an intersegment test to verify communication compatibility from the satellite to the ground operations center, and the final battery reconditioning for launch. Following these activities, the satellite will be fueled and prepared for integration with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle.

“As with the creation of the Air Force in 1947, identity matters to the people assigned to the USSF,” La Tour noted. “AEHF speaks to a history of success in delivering unparalleled communications capability and serves as an excellent kernel to begin building a unique Space Force culture; a first win.”

“Having started in 2000, the AEHF system was envisioned at another inflection point.  Initially designed for strategic and tactical users across the full spectrum of war, the AEHF system has met its purpose for the last decade supporting warfighters across the globe.  While AEHF design has spanned two decades it is increasingly relevant with the renewed rise of great-power conflict.  As space moves from a congested to a contested domain, the upgraded resiliency of AEHF-6 is posed to meet the coming threats and accelerate a culture of learning in space production,” La Tour said.

AEHF-6 is slated to launch in March 2020. The AEHF system is designed to augment and improve on the already existing Milstar constellation by providing enhanced survivable, global, secure, protected, and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets.  The AEHF program hit another recent milestone when AEHF-4 was accepted for operational use by U.S. Space Command on Jan 6.  Combined Force Space Component Command will begin mission activation of AEHF-4 and transition of operational users to the system.