The joint ULA and U.S. Space Force team simulated the countdown to launch an Atlas V rocket and the AEHF-6 spacecraft during a successful final dress rehearsal today.
The launch from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-41 is planned for next Thursday, March 26, at 2:57 p.m. EDT (1857 UTC).
Known as the Mission Dress Rehearsal (MDR), the exercise is the last opportunity to simulate day-of-launch activities before the real countdown begins. The MDR follows earlier Integrated Crew Exercises (ICEs) that foster a cohesive working relationship between the ULA personnel running the countdown and the customer personnel managing the mission and controlling the payload.
These simulations are a common part of pre-launch preparations to familiarize the integrated team with the nuances of timelines for that specific mission, experience the problem-resolution process, rehearse how to react quickly and efficiently when issues arise and demonstrate the coordination required to select a target launch time.
Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Launch Enterprise at the Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center and the mission director for the AEHF-6 launch, oversaw the rehearsal from the Mission Director’s Center at the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC).
The ULA Launch Director for the mission is Tom Heter III. The launch director and the mission director work together to maintain overall situational awareness for launch-critical assets, launch vehicle and spacecraft health, timelines and major milestones, mission constraints, remaining launch window and final team readiness to support the planned T-0.
Running the countdown from the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center’s Launch Control Center (LCC) was ULA Launch Conductor Scott Barney, a veteran of both Atlas V and Delta IV missions. On launch day, he will orchestrate all steps in the countdown procedure and manage two dozen console positions in the LCC.
Today’s exercise also included 45th Space Wing personnel from the Eastern Range and Weather Squadron. The simulation practiced their duties during the countdown, including weather briefings, providing equipment status updates and approval processes.
ULA will use an Atlas V 551 rocket to launch AEHF-6, the final spacecraft in the AEHF satellite constellation. The global, survivable, jam-resistant network is the bedrock for assured communications for leaders to control tactical and strategic forces in the most hostile wartime conditions, even in a nuclear conflict. The satellites relay real-time video, battlefield maps and targeting data to high-priority users on the ground, at sea or in the air.