WASHINGTON — Canada recently became the first U.S. ally to communicate through a new generation of highly secure military communications satellites the U.S. Air Force began deploying in 2010 to handle nuclear command and control and other sensitive transmissions, the satellites’ prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, announced June 20.

A U.S.-Canada team near Ottawa connected with the first satellite in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellation and communicated with the U.S. Air Force’s 4th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., according to a Lockheed Martin press release. The satellite, AEHF-1, was launched in August 2010 but took more than a year to reach its operational orbit due to a propulsion glitch.  

AEHF-2 joined AEHF-1 in orbit in May 2012. The third AEHF satellite, according to the press release, is slated to launch from Florida in September aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Lockheed Martin is expected to build a total of six satellites under a contract worth an estimated $9 billion or more, including associated ground systems.

“AEHF’s protected communication capabilities are operational and have wide appeal,” Mark Calassa, vice president of Protected Communications at Lockheed Martin, said in a statement. “This event was an integrated effort that spanned countries, armed services and product lines. It shows our employees are delivering a complex system that works well, enhances capability and improves allied missions.”

The Netherlands and United Kingdom are also expected to test a terminal connection to AEHF-1 later this year.

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...