Space Force blasts off for the first time

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The Space Force is set to blast off into space on Thursday for the first time since its creation last year with a rocket scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The liftoff is set for 2:57 p.m. on Thursday, and there is a two-hour launch window. The space-faring spectacle can be watched live online.

United Launch Alliance, a joint effort between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, will carry out the national security mission on behalf of the U.S. Space Force. Thursday’s launch is the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite that the U.S. military has launched into space, with the prior five launches happening between 2010 and 2019 under the direct auspices of the U.S. Air Force, before the Space Force’s founding.

This sixth military satellite will finalize the military’s constellation of satellites in geostationary orbit 22,200 miles above the Earth’s surface. The national security satellites will provide secure communications that will assist U.S. military operations around the world, from ground deployments to missions on the oceans, from weather planning to flight coordination, and everything in between.

All six launches have used Atlas V rockets, which cost more than $109 million per launch. The rocket itself weighs 1.2 million pounds, and the satellite weighs 13,500 pounds. The rocket will produce about 2.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

United Launch Alliance has successfully launched 137 rockets in all its attempts. Lockheed Martin Space Systems built the rocket being used Thursday.

The Space Force previously conducted its first ballistic missile launch across the Pacific Ocean in February.

The Space Force, created by law in December, is organized as a military branch within the Air Force and led by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. Gen. John Raymond, a longtime member of the Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was named the first chief of space operations for the Space Force.

The Space Force was created to push back against advances that China and Russia are making in space.

“Space is the world’s newest warfighting domain,” President Trump said at Andrews Air Force Base during a December speech celebrating the creation of the Space Force. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. We’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot.”

Although Rocket Lab, based in New Zealand, canceled its space launch scheduled for this weekend amid the coronavirus outbreak, United Launch Alliance moved ahead, though it scaled back much of the in-person celebration.

“In the current dynamic environment, national security is of utmost importance,” Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, said in a statement. “We are proud to launch the first National Security Space mission for the U.S. Space Force and look forward to delivering the final AEHF asset to support our nation’s national defense and the warfighter community.”

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