Special Delivery: Modernized C-5 Airlifted AEHF Satellite
The countdown reached zero. The rocket motor lit. The Atlas V booster, tall as a twenty-story building, started to rise. Splitting the early morning darkness with a brilliant flash, a thundering roar, and riding on a column of smoke, the rocket climbed, began to accelerate, and then arced away from the launchpad.
Explosive bolts held the US Air Force’s third Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF-3, high capacity, jam-resistant, nuclear-survivable military communications satellite in place as the Atlas V gained speed and altitude.
The three solid rocket motors strapped to the rocket’s sides to provide additional thrust burned out and were jettisoned about two minutes into flight. The sixty-five foot tall, two-piece, European-built fairing covering both the satellite and the Centaur upper stage separated a minute and a half later.
The Russian-built, 860,000-pound-thrust RD-180 engine, having expended its propellant, shut down as planned a little more than four minutes after liftoff. First stage separation occurred six seconds later. The 25,000-pound-thrust Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10 engine in the rocket’s Centaur upper stage then fired for the first of two planned burns.
The first Centaur burn lasted about nine and one-half minutes, placing the satellite into a parking orbit. After coasting for about eight minutes, the engine lit up again for a five and one-half minute burn, moving the satellite into transfer orbit.
At that point, the bolts fired and the satellite separated from the Centaur and began transmitting. Getting AEHF-3 to its final geosynchronous orbit approximately 22,000 miles from Earth will take about 155 days including on-orbit testing.
From liftoff to signal acquisition, the 18 September 2013 launch of AEHF-3 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida, took fifty-one minutes. But the process to move this thirty-one foot tall, 13,570-pound satellite from a clean room in California, transport it across the country, and up to space actually began in 2004.
November 27, 2013
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- A C-5M Super Galaxy transported the thirty-one foot tall, 13,570-pound AEHF-3 satellite across the country from a clean room in California to the launch site in Florida.
- The journey to deliver AEHF-3 actually began in October 2004, when this particular C-5B Galaxy was flown to Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Ga., to go through the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program, or RERP, modification line to become a C-5M Super Galaxy.
- The AEHF system will give the US National Security Council and unified combatant commanders the ability to control tactical and strategic forces at all levels of conflict through nuclear war.