Cape Canaveral Preparing for Key Military Launches

The Air Force 45th Space Wing is gearing up for three high-profile space launches at Cape Canaveral over the coming months. If all goes as planned, the fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-5) and the Space Test Program-2 missions will fly in June, and the second vehicle of the Global Positioning System-3 constellation in July.

Lockheed Martin on Saturday shipped the $1.4 billion AEHF-5 satellite from a facility in Sunnyvale, California, to Cape Canaveral on a C-5 cargo plane to prepare for a June 27 launch. The company also completed the checkout testing of the $568 million GPS-3 SV-2 in anticipation of a July 25 launch. Meanwhile, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center is getting ready to launch STP-2. This will be Falcon Heavy's third launch and, of larger significance to the Air Force, it will be powered by reused side boosters from the rocket's recent Arabsat mission, paving the way for the Air Force's future certification of reused rockets.

"This is exciting for the Air Force as we look to increase reusability in the future," Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the Air Force 45th Space Wing and director of the Eastern Range at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, told SpaceNews. The range has two landing pads for returning boosters that has been used only by SpaceX but could be made available to others as well, he said. No date has been set yet for STP-2 but Schiess estimates it could happen in June.

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AEHF-5 The classified communications satellite will lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 551 rocket. The same vehicle launched the first four AEHF satellites in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018. The AEHF-5 launch will mark the 80th Atlas V mission since 2002 and the 10th in the 551 configuration. Mike Cacheiro, Lockheed Martin vice president of protected communications, said AEHF-4 reached orbit on February 20, more than a month earlier than planned. After vehicle 5, there is only one more left in the program. AEHF-6 is projected to launch in 2020. The AEHF program of record consists of six satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit.

GPS 3 SV-2 The second vehicle of the GPS 3 constellation will be the last mission flown by ULA's Delta IV Medium "single stick" configuration with one common core booster. The company is taking the vehicle out of service as it moves to cut costs. Johnathon Caldwell, program manager for Lockheed Martin's navigation systems, said the company wrapped up checkout testing in Florida in late March and won't resume operations until May when preparations will begin for satellite fueling and integration with the Delta IV fairing.

STP-2 The Defense Department's Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission will deliver 23 satellites to space on DoD's first Falcon Heavy launch. SpaceX has characterized this as one of its most challenging launches — a six-hour-plus mission with four separate upper-stage engine burns and three separate deployment orbits. The reuse of the side boosters from the Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy launch in April makes this the first reused Falcon Heavy ever flown. SMC will use STP-2 as a pathfinder for the development of mission assurance policies and procedures on the reuse of launch vehicle boosters. This mission is four years late, as it was originally planned for mid-2015. Delays were caused by Falcon Heavy development setbacks and Falcon 9 failures in 2015 and 2016.

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Sandra Erwin
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Sandra Erwin covers the military and national security beat as a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews. Sandra, based in Arlington, Virginia, specializes in Defense Department and Intelligence Community space programs, policy, budgets, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She joined SpaceNews in October 2017. Before coming to SpaceNews, Erwin covered the U.S. military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for over two decades as editor of the National Defense Industrial Association's National Defense Magazine and Pentagon correspondent for Real Clear Defense.