A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket fired into the night sky over Cape Canaveral just after midnight Wednesday, carrying the U.S. Air Force’s fourth AEHF communications satellite designed to enable secure voice, video and data links between U.S. and allied forces.
The 197-foot-tall (60-meter) rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad at 12:15 a.m. EDT (0415 GMT) Wednesday, riding 2.6 million pounds of thrust from its RD-180 main engine and five solid rocket boosters.
The fourth Lockheed Martin-built Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite rode the Atlas 5 rocket skyward inside a 17.7-foot-diameter (5.4-meter) payload shroud.
Three-and-a-half hours after liftoff, the Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage released the AEHF 4 spacecraft into an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit. The AEHF 4 satellite will maneuver into a circular geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator in the coming weeks, joining three other AEHF spacecraft designed to ensure U.S. government leaders and military commanders remain in contact, even during the nightmarish scenario of a nuclear war.
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