Updated 11:53 AM payload separation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket on Thursday launched the fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-5) communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The Atlas 5 in the 551 configuration with five solid rocket boosters lifted off at 6:13 AM EST from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Approximately five hours, 40 minutes after launch, AEHF-5 separated and was deployed into space.

AEHF satellites provide secure, jam-proof connectivity for U.S. national leadership and deployed military forces. Atlas V rockets successfully launched the first four AEHF satellites in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018.

The AEHF-5 launch marks the 80th Atlas 5 mission since the inaugural launch in 2002 and the 10th in the 551 configuration with the Centaur upper stage and a five-meter diameter payload fairing.

The 6,500 kg. AEHF-5 completes a geostationary ring of five satellites providing global coverage for the United States and international partners Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The Atlas 5 rocket’s Centaur upper stage completed first burn at 6:25 AM. At 6:29 AM launch data showed that the first burn by Centaur inserted the rocket into the target orbit as planned. The second main engine cutoff was confirmed for Centaur at 6:42 AM, completing the next step towards the targeted orbit to deploy AEHF-5. The rocket then began a five-hour coast away from Earth to reach the proper point in space for the third burn by the upper stage.

Thursday’s launch was the 251st flight of the hydrogen-fueled Centaur. For this mission, it carried an experimental cubesat as a rideshare payload.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...