ULA successfully launches Air Force satcom satellite into orbit

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WASHINGTON – The United Launch Alliance successfully launched the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom 9 satellite Saturday evening aboard a Delta 4 rocket.

The Delta 4 Medium-Plus (5,4) lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37 at 8:18 p.m. Eastern, about halfway into its 75-minute launch window. The window opened at 7:44 p.m., but an issue with the swing-arm system on the gantry extended a planned hold in the countdown.

The launch is the second national security mission for ULA this month, following the liftoff of a National Reconnaissance Office payload on an Atlas 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California  March 1.

The Delta 4 rocket sported logos for the WGS 9 satellite and the Air Force's 70th anniversary. Credit: Air Force
The Delta 4 rocket sported logos for the WGS 9 satellite and the Air Force’s 70th anniversary. Credit: Air Force

The Boeing-built WGS-9 is the next unit in the Air Force’s military satcom constellation. It will provide greater capacity, as well as Ka- and X-band communications with anti-jamming capabilities. The Air Force celebrated the WGS-9 launch as part of the festivities for the service’s 70th anniversary.

U.S. allies also use the constellation, and WGS-9 was funded in part by Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Luxembourg.

Military operations are increasingly dependent on capabilities based in space and the Canadian Armed Forces recognizes this fact,” Brigadier General Blaise Frawley, director general for space for the Royal Canadian Air Force, said in a statement. “WGS-9 will further enhance a reliable satcom network, and ensure our forces at home and abroad can communicate effectively to enable success on operations.”

Another WGS launch is planned for 2019, bringing the constellation up to 10. The Defense Department is currently conducting an analysis to determine what its next step should be for military satellite communications. The potential options include purchasing more WGS satellites, starting a new system, or purchasing greater capacity from the commercial sector.