WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force on Aug. 14 successfully launched the first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the service announced Aug. 14.

The AEHF satellites, being built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., will replace the current generation Milstar satellites for handling the U.S. military’s most critical satellite communications traffic, including nuclear command and control.

The next two satellites in the series are expected to launch in 2011 and 2012. Once the initial constellation of three geostationary spacecraft is on orbit, the system will provide secure, jam-resistant communications between 65 degrees north latitude and 65 degrees south latitude, the Air Force press release said.

Development troubles delayed the launch of the first AEHF satellite by several years. The Air Force has bought three AEHF satellites and paid for long-lead items for the fourth satellite, with a current plan to buy a total of six spacecraft.