By Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely, 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 27, 2020
An Atlas V Advanced Extremely High Frequency vehicle number 6 rocket successfully launches from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 26, 2020. The AEHF-6 launch, a sophisticated communications relay satellite, is the first Department of Defense payload launched for the United States Space Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua Conti)
The Advanced Extremely High Frequency vehicle number six launched March 26, completing the planned protected satellite program.
The 4th Space Operations Squadron maintains and commands the protected satellite constellation and will fully integrate AEHF-6 into their family.
“AEHF satellites were engineered to provide global, secure, survivable, jam-resistant communications for the American warfighter and our international partners 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said 2nd Lt. Janelle Rogers, 4th Space Operations Squadron satellite engineer. “They support both strategic and tactical missions.”
Strategic missions include: submarine and bomber report back, integrated tactical warning attack and assessment, emergency action message dissemination, missile defense and warning and near real-time targeting.
Tactical missions include: range extension, fire support, special operations, air defense and joint task force enabling.
“As it stands today, the 4th SOPS protected engineering maintains 10 satellites around the clock, performing nominal tasks during the day and providing on-call support after hours,” Rogers said. “Adding an 11th satellite to the constellation will increase our workload, but we are more than ready and proud to take this on.”
Once AEHF-6 is ready for operational use, the protected satellite program will be complete. This is a process which has taken more than 26 years, since the first Milstar satellite (the first of the protected satellites to go into orbit) launched February 1994.
“It greatly enhances our capability to support the warfighter,” Rogers said. “AEHF operates in the same family of satellites as the Milstar series, but AEHF is able to operate off of an extended data rate. While they operate off of XDR, they are still backward compatible with Milstar’s low data rate and medium data rate communications. This allows continuous, uninterrupted communications for our sea, air and land forces.”
Extended data rate is a wavelength that pulls transmission speeds at a quicker rate than LDR and MDR, making the AEHF-6 satellite quicker and more powerful than the Milstar program.
The squadron plans to move from a posture of maintaining and operating current satellites while simultaneously preparing for launches to focus on long-term operational sustainment.
“This satellite extends and completes the protected (program’s) global coverage capabilities,” Rogers said. “The addition of this satellite adds a lot of power and capacity to what the protected (program) can already do.”
This action demonstrates the 50th Space Wing continuing mission despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite everything going on right now, it’s important to not lose sight of our mission as space warfighters,” said Airman 1st Class Sophia Carbajal, 4th SOPS extremely high frequency satellite systems operator. “The launch of AEHF-6 not only represents the future of space operations, but it represents how dedicated this nation is to maintaining space superiority.”
In July 2019, there were only four AEHF satellites in the protected program. Flash forward eight months and the unit is taking on its sixth AEHF satellite.
“The addition of newer and more efficient satellites, such as AEHF-6, will not only help us better support the missions of our service members downrange, but it will help us continue to provide secure, survivable military satellite communications at the frontlines of space systems operations,” Carbajal said.