WASHINGTON – The Air Force’s latest Wideband Global Satcom satellite successfully launched Dec. 7 from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Medium-Plus (5,4) rocket lifted off successfully at 6:53 p.m. Eastern. Separation of the WGS-8 satellite from the rocket’s upper stage occurred at 7:35 p.m. Due to the sensitive nature of its work, the Air Force does not always disclose the exact time they establish communication with a satellite, but initial indications were that everything was operating as planned.

A statement from the service’s Space and Missile Systems Center said the satellite is expected to enter operations in early 2017.

The satellite was housed in a five-meter fairing prior to liftoff, boosted by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68 engine and four solid rocket motors from Orbital ATK.

The spacecraft is the eighth satellite in the military’s communication constellation, whose first satellite launched in 2007. The Boeing-built WGS-8 satellite will be the first with an upgrade that allows it to provide an estimated 45 percent more bandwidth than previous WGS satellites.

Two more WGS satellites are planned for launch, bringing the constellation total up to 10 by 2019. Each satellite is designed with a 14-year service life.

“This mission demonstrates the Air Force’s commitment to deliver secure and reliable satellite communications around the globe to U.S. forces and our allies,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing and the mission’s launch decision authority.

Laura Maginnis, ULA’s vice president of custom services, said the launch demonstrates the company’s ability to “deliver our nation’s most crucial space capabilities.” ULA celebrated its 10th anniversary Dec. 1.

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...