SpaceX launches Israeli company's satellite, ULA launch set for Thursday

45th Space Wing commander hopes to see more than 48 launches a year

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The Space Coast could eventually see more than 48 launches a year, according to the commander of the 45th Space Wing, Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, who oversees launches from Florida.

Schiess said in a call with reporters Monday that, under the right circumstances, the 45th Space Wing could prepare the range for another liftoff within 24 hours.

This week won’t be that close, with two launches in three days, but it is a good test of the Space Wing’s capabilities.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 was the first launch of the week, lifting off with an Israeli company’s satellite Tuesday evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40.

The Falcon 9 blasted off between storm clouds with SpaceCom’s AMOS-17 satellite at 7:23 p.m. dodging cloud cover and bad weather just hours before.

The launch was a redemption of sorts for SpaceX, as the company owed SpaceCom another launch. Another Spacecom satellite, AMOS-6, was destroyed in 2016 when a Falcon 9 exploded on the pad during fueling.

Spacecom CEO David Pollack declined to disclose details of the actual launch agreement during media availability last week.

The Falcon 9 booster launching AMOS-17 had flown twice already, but due to the requirements of this launch, it was not be recovered after liftoff.

Next up is a a Thursday morning launch from United Launch Alliance.

ULA plans to send up a fifth advanced high-frequency satellite for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center downrange at Launch Complex 41.

“We're very excited to support our ninth launch this calendar year, which takes us up one closer to the (45th Space) Wing’s drive to (the) '48 initiative' -- to make sure that we have the capacity to launch over 48 rockets here in Cape Canaveral every year,” Schiess said.

Schiess said the range was in a good position to launch SpaceX on Tuesday evening and then be ready for ULA’s Atlas V launch Thursday morning.

Brig. Gen. Douglas A. Schiess is 45th Space Wing commander and director of the Eastern Range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

Schiess said balancing multiple launch schedules is like working a big puzzle. 

"It's massaging the schedule and making sure that we can do everything we need to be able to do the prelaunch workings for Advanced-EHF and also meet the timeline for SpaceX," Schiess said.  

ULA Vice President of Government and Commercial Programs Gary Wentz said ULA will begin rolling out the Atlas V and the AEHF-5 satellite an hour earlier Tuesday morning to avoid a conflict with SpaceX’s operational activities and any possible weather issues.  

The two sites hosting launches this week are only a few miles apart, but Wentz said ULA team members can continue to be on-site at Launch Complex 41 while SpaceX is launching downrange.

ULA’s two-hour launch window opens at 5:44 a.m. Air Force weather officials are predicting a 70% chance of good launch conditions.

A ULA Atlas V rocket with the AEHF-5 mission for the U.S. Air Force Space & Missile Systems Center rolls to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Photo credit: United Launch Alliance)

ULA's payload, AEHF-5, is the fifth communications satellite in the Lockheed Martin-built Advanced Extremely High Frequency series for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The AEHF satellites provide critical and secure communication support for U.S. troops on the ground.

Lockheed Martin’s AEHF Program Manager Mike Cacheiro said the satellite has the abilities to detect and block any technology that may be jamming communications between war fighters and command.

“It's critical that we were able to block out those jammers. And they can be as simple as a radio with an antenna from Radio Shack to a complex jamming antenna, which … many nations of concern have and so you just have to be able to communicate through any type of environment,” Cacheiro said.

Atlas V rockets launched the first four AEHF satellites from 2010 to 2018 and will launch a sixth satellite in March 2020.

Check back for updates. Launch dates and times are subject to change.

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