ULA successfully launches fifth US Air Force-protected communications satellite

The United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint-effort commercial launch service provider set up by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, succeeded in launching a U.S. Air Force communications satellite to orbit today, the fifth in a series of launches to form a constellation. The satellite, code-named AEHF-5 (for the fifth “Advanced Extremely High Frequency” spacecraft) is already communicating with USAF on the ground, indicating full mission success.

For ULA, this is another win in an unbroken streak – it’s the 90th Atlas V launch to date, with 100% success across all those launches. The launch took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:13 AM ET this morning, marking the second successful launch from the Cape this week (SpaceX launched the AMOS-17 satellite earlier this week).

The Atlas V for this mission was flying in what ULA terms “551” configuration, which means that it’s equipped with five solid rocket boosters surrounding its liquid-fueled center core booster. This is the configuration that provides Atlas V with the most lift and payload capacity, which was necessary in this case because of the weight of the AEHF-5 satellite at nearly 14,000 lbs., combined with its target orbit.

Lockheed Martin built the AEHF-5 for the Air Force, and confirmed via email this afternoon that it not only achieved geostationary transfer orbit but is responding as planned to the USAF’s 4th Space Operations Squadron. The company has built all five current active AEHF satellites in operation, and is currently working on the sixth, which should launch sometime next year if all goes to plan.