CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Even during a global pandemic, U.S. national security launches must go on. On Thursday, United Launch Alliance launched its first communications satellite for the now U.S. Space Force, and it’s designed to help troops around the world.
Engineers worked to resolve a hydraulics issue that caused a hold during the two-hour launch window. Atlas V launched at 4:18 p.m. with the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF, satellite for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The AEHF satellite system was developed by Lockheed Martin and provides communications for strategic command and to all U.S. military branch soldiers around the world. This is the final satellite in the constellation.
It takes hundreds of people to see a launch through for a successful mission, between launch operators, weather engineers, communications, safety personnel, environmental, security forces and other, according to the Commander of the 45th Space Wing Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess. The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing oversees the Eastern Range.
On Tuesday, Schiess answered questions from reporters about how the coronavirus pandemic may affect the launch schedule in coming months but currently he described operations as “business as usual" with some minor changes limiting interactions between teams.
“We are working very closely with (support contractors) to make sure that we have everything that we need to do from a base support standpoint to our launch providers, to anyone that enables the launch mission and so lots and lots of coordination. But at this time we’re not we’re not expecting any issues," Schiess said. "Everyone seems to be doing the same thing trying to keep the mission going.”
While launch operations continue for the general public, in-person launch viewing options were impacted. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to avoid gathers of 10 or more and maintain social distancing. COVID-19 is highly contagious and Florida has more than 1,400 confirmed cases and rising as of Tuesday morning.
Popular rocket watching spots, including Space View Park in Titusville and Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral are closed. Beaches in Brevard and Volusia counties remain open but that may not be the case by Thursday.
The 45th Space Wing will not allow guests onto the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for launch viewing and the public viewing site outside the gates on State Road 401 next to the Banana River will also be closed due to COVID-19.
The good news is that if you have a clear view you can see the launch from most places in Central Florida and ULA provided a livestream with high-definition views.