U.S. Air Force Begins Testing First AEHF Satellite on Orbit

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The U.S. Air Force’s first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure military communications satellite has started a four-month-long on-orbit testing phase following initial activation of its communications payload, the service announced Nov. 1.

The payload was activated Oct. 26 through Oct. 28 by the Air Force, AEHF prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems, subcontractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and the Aerospace Corp. In the initial test, terminals at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs were able to link up via the satellite, the Air Force said in the press release. 

Early testing of the AEHF-1 satellite will focus on its own performance capabilities. Later it will be tested as part of a constellation that includes the operational Milstar secure communications satellites.

By the end of November, the Air Force expects to have completed enough testing to decide whether to launch the second AEHF in April 2012, Dave Madden, director of the Milsatcom Systems Directorate at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said in a statement.

The AEHF-1 was successfully launched Aug. 14 into a highly elliptical parking orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. But a thruster designed to take the satellite to geostationary orbit failed shortly thereafter, forcing the Air Force and Lockheed Martin to devise a new orbit-raising plan that took more than a year to execute.

The Air Force announced Oct. 24 that the satellite had reached geostationary orbit.