On a clear Thursday afternoon, after a 1 hour and 21 minute delay, at 4:18 p.m. a United Launch Alliance Atlas V in the 551 configuration, raced into orbit with the first official payload for the newly formed United States Space Force.
The payload in question was the Advanced Extremely High Frequency 6 (AEHF-6) satellite, a highly advanced jam-resistant communication satellite built by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. This was the sixth and final one to complete the global constellation and secure communications between US troops that are anywhere on the globe, land, sea and air. This constellation is to also be used with international partners such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.
Due to the classified nature of this mission, not much else is known about this satellite, but one thing that is known is that it weighs approximately 6,168 kg (13,598 lb) and its final destination is a geosynchronous orbit. For these reasons, the Atlas V in its heaviest configuration was chosen to launch this important mission. With its five AJ-60A Solid Rocket Boosters (each producing 1,688.4 kN of force) and its single RD-180 (producing 3,830 kN of force), it has plenty of thrust to lift this massive satellite to its destination, a Geostationary transfer orbit of 10,876 km (6,758 mi) by 35,298 km (21,933 mi) with an inclination of 13.9°.
On the way there, it even took a secondary payload, a small 12U Cubesat from the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center. This secondary payload, named TDO-2 will be used for laser ranging and calibration tests. This satellite was deployed approximately 30 seconds after the second burn of the Centaur Upper Stage’s RL-10C-1 was completed. This engine was reignited for a third and final time approximately 5 hours and 36 minutes after launch for a 2 minute burn to place satellite in it’s intended orbit before being released, for it to complete circularization on it’s own power.
Associated Photos Available: https://twitter.com/adrian_ruiz_99?s=20
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