A United Launch Alliance rocket lit up the night during a successful early morning launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Wednesday.
On board: the fourth Air Force satellite in a $15 billion project to bring highly-secure communications to parts of the planet.
An Atlas V rocket took off from Launch Complex 41 at 12:15 a.m., the opening of ULA’s two-hour launch window. The launch went off smoothly thanks in part to favorable weather going into Wednesday evening.
“Bird is away,” tweeted Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, as the powerful Atlas V and its five rocket boosters took off.
The payload that hitched a ride was the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency 4 satellite, or AEHF, built by Lockheed Martin. The military communications satellite will provide “vastly improved global, survivable, protected communications capabilities for strategic command and tactical warfighters,” ULA said. It will service the military forces of the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The AEHF program will ultimately include six satellites in orbit around the Earth. ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has already launched the first three AEHF satellites in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The fifth satellite is scheduled to go into space in July 2019.
Wednesday’s launch was the culmination of nearly two years of delays. The AEHF-4 satellite was first scheduled to launch in December 2016, but issues primarily with the satellite’s power regulator have caused the launch date to slip multiple times.