Press Release

Space and Missile Systems Center prepares for “Summer of Launch 19”

By SpaceRef Editor
June 20, 2019
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Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, the national security space launch procurer of choice, is preparing for a very busy summer of space launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

Weather permitting, in a span of just 30 days over the next two months, SMC’s launch program offices are preparing for four planned space missions: Space Test Program-2 (STP-2), Advanced Extremely High Frequency-5 (AEHF-5), Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) and Global Positioning System III Space Vehicle-02 (GPS III SV-02).  

SMC’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate has an unprecedented record of 76 out of 76 consecutive successful launches.

“This history-making and complex endeavor, involving collaboration with commercial spaceflight new entrants, exemplifies SMC’s commitment to pursuing new, innovative ways of delivering reliable, responsive, and leading-edge space capabilities to the Air Force, DOD, and ultimately the Warfighter —with reduced launch costs,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate.


Launch #1: STP-2 (NET June 24)

The first of these four missions is STP-2, a ground breaking mission scheduled to be the Air Force’s first foray into the re-usable launch market since NASA’s space shuttle program.   STP-2 is the first Department of Defense launch using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, as well as the first DOD mission re-using space launch hardware, using two previously flown boosters from the successful Arabsat-6A mission last April as the side cores on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle 

“STP-2 is a remarkable achievement for the entire team,” said Col. Tim Sejba, director of SMC’s Innovation and Prototyping Directorate. “In one launch, we’ll deliver 24 spacecraft to a variety of orbits.  Each of these missions will advance civil and military objectives by demonstrating next generation space technologies.  It’s a perfect example of how we are leaning forward under SMC 2.0 to bring exciting new space capabilities to the Defense Department and our mission partners.”  

Launch #2: AEHF-5 (NET June 27)

Just three days later is the launch of the fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF)-5 communications satellite, the culmination of a prominent acquisition effort championed by SMC, the driver of the future of the Military Satellite Command, or MILSATCOM architecture.

To maximize satellite on-orbit capability, SMC ordered the Atlas V 551 for this mission, the most powerful Atlas rocket available. This lift-off will mark the 10th Atlas V 551 launch and 80th Atlas V launch.   

“SMC Space Production Corps’ agile program management techniques, smart business approach and close teaming with the contractor made this early launch possible, enabling delivery of enhanced capabilities to the warfighter one month ahead of schedule,” said Luke Schaub, deputy director, SMC Space Production Corps. 

A media teleconference is scheduled for June 24 at 11 a.m. EDT to discuss the upcoming launch. 

Launch #3 Ascent Abort Test #2 (NET July 2)

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft, is a multi-purpose crew vehicle that will carry the first woman and next man to land on the Moon by 2024, and enable sustained presence on and around the Moon by 2028. An integral part of ensuring safe spaceflight is Orion’s Launch Abort System, or LAS. The in-flight abort test will originate from Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch pad was last used for SMC’s Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) mission, flown atop an Orbital/ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) Minotaur launch vehicle in 2017.

“SMC is partnering with NASA and NGIS to provide a refurbished SR118 Peacekeeper first stage motor as an Abort Test Booster for this milestone test,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of SMC’s Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. 

SMC’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate and Rocket Systems Launch Program provided the repurposed ATB to send a test version of the Orion spacecraft with the launch abort system to an altitude of about six miles traveling at more than 1,000 miles per hour. The abort motor will quickly whisk the crew module away from the booster, and the attitude control motor will maneuver the assembly into position to jettison the crew module.

During this “Three Minutes of Fire and Fury,” AA-2 will help pave the path for NASA’s return to the moon under the Artemis program by testing the Launch Abort System on the Orion MPCV — an American-European interplanetary spacecraft intended to carry a crew of four astronauts to destinations at or beyond low Earth orbit and bring them home.

The Abort Test Booster being used for this test flight contributes toward meeting SMC’s Rocket Systems Launch Program’s responsibilities to re-utilize excess Intercontinental Ballistic Missile rocket motors for U.S. government research, development, test and evaluation activities.


Launch #4: GPS III SV-02 (NET: July 25)

Rounding out the Summer of Launch 2019 is the second Lockheed Martin Global Positioning System III satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV (4, 2) on July 25, 2019. This is the last single core Delta IV launch vehicle, culminating 17 years of successful launches. Leading the GPS III launch effort is SMC’s Enterprise Corps, a joint service program office directed by the Air Force and managed at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. 

As SMC’s Center of Excellence for cutting edge Cyber, Launch, Ground, and Sustainment Services, the Space Enterprise Corps delivers a multi-faceted portfolio of space warfighting capabilities to our nation and its partners guaranteeing dominance in space,” said Michael Dolan, deputy director, SMC Space Enterprise Corps. 

GPS is used by more than four billion users and supports critical missions worldwide. In addition to more powerful signals and improved accuracy, this latest generation of GPS satellites is the first to broadcast four civil signals and is designed to confer interoperability with similar international systems around the world, such as Europe’s Galileo and Japan’s Quazi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). For the warfighter, GPS III also includes high-bandwidth Military Code (M-Code) signals designed for military use. The GPS III satellites’ nearly 70 percent digital payload will provide the Air Force with greater operational flexibility and will continue to support legacy users. 

GPS III also includes a hosted payload, the Nuclear Detonation (NUDET) Detection System (NDS). It provides a near real-time, worldwide, highly survivable capability to detect, locate, and report any nuclear detonations in the earth’s atmosphere or in near space. Once on-orbit, GPS III SVs are launched and checked out using the new ground control software, GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) Block 0. This OCX Block 0 system, also known as the GPS III Launch and Checkout System (LCS), completed end-to-end factory mission readiness testing with the satellite to ensure seamless operation. Successful completion of these tests provided a high level of confidence for the satellite’s ability to survive the launch environment, reach its operational orbit, and perform its mission.

For more information regarding this mission and the efforts of the Space and Missile Systems Center on advancing U.S. space technology, please visit:

Media representatives who would like to interview a subject matter expert or learn more about these launches should send an email to

SpaceRef staff editor.