Hailing frequencies open, sir... America's Space Force hurls its first military comms satellite into Earth's orbit

Watch the Atlas V 551 rocket blast off

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Vid The US Space Force embarked on its first official mission on Thursday, launching a military communications satellite aboard an Atlas V 551 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The metallic bird, known as AEHF-6, is the sixth machine to join America's fleet of Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites in geostationary orbits. Together they survey Earth creating a secure communications network sending data to and from US military units on the ground, sea, and air.

Built by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, the data beamed to and from the AEHF satellites is encrypted, and its antennas are steerable to avoid signal interference and overcome jammers trying to derail connectivity. The network is designed to replace the aging Milstar system operated by the US Air Force.

The Atlas V 551 rocket was blasted into space at 20:18 UTC by the United Launch Alliance, a joint effort between Lockheed Martin and Boeing Defense based in Virginia.

You can watch the launch below (skip forward to about 1:44:31 to get to the 10-second countdown):

Youtube Video

The AEFH satellites will be operated by the US Air Force and will also support communications for the armed forces in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia.

It's the first mission for the US Space Force, the newest branch of Uncle Sam's armed forces set up by President Donald Trump in 2019. The launch came at a time when space agencies around the world, including NASA and ESA, have wound down operations amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Brice Brewington, the extremely high frequency satellite systems operator and member of the 4th Space Operations Squadron, said: "It's critical we continue the mission during trying times. Although there is a pandemic here on Earth, there's no pandemic in space and our adversaries aren't going to stop trying to gain superiority from us any time soon." ®

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