AirForce Research Laboratory Successfully Launches Satellite

ALBUQUERQUE – The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Automated Navigation and Guidance Experiment for Local Space (ANGELS) satellite was successfully launched today Monday, July 28, 2014 at 5:28pm MST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite was originally scheduled for launch on Wednesday July 24th, but was delayed due to weather conditions until today’s launch.

AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, one of nine AFRL research laboratories, manages the ANGELS program as part of its research in advanced Space Situational Awareness (SSA). ANGELS will examine techniques for providing a clearer picture of the environment around our nation’s vital space assets. The satellite features a sensor that can evaluate techniques for detection, tracking and characterizing of space objects while in orbit. The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate is located at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

The Space Vehicle Directorate’s engineers will operate and maintain control of the satellite during its time in orbit from a mission operations center which is also located on Kirtland Air Force Base in partnership with the DoD’s Space Test Program (STP). Rigorous research and development has been conducted to ensure that the satellite can perform safe automated spacecraft operations above the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, or more commonly referred to as GEO orbit. AFRL is using a layered strategy that combines system design, testing, procedures and flight operations discipline to ensure safety while in orbit. The satellite will undergo a variety of in orbit tests over the next several weeks to evaluate and establish the vehicle’s readiness to conduct experiment operations. The Air Force will use the results of the experiment to evolve future satellite systems, ensuring responsive performance of space situational awareness from a safe distance.

The ANGELS satellite was built and tested by engineers and scientists from AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate along with contractor ATA Aerospace, a local Albuquerque company. A combined team of more than 50 military, civilian, and contractor personnel will plan and operate the ANGELS spacecraft for approximately 1 year. 70 military, civilian, and contractor scientists and engineers will analyze the data over the next several years enabling transition of technology, knowledge and vision of future space capabilities to Air Force Space Command.

ATA Aerospace and AFRL Space Vehicles personnel conducting launch vehicle integration (left) and fueling activities (right) near Cape Canaveral, FL. 

Background:

The current ANGELS program began in 2007, focused on meeting the country’s needs to improve methods for monitoring an increasingly contested space environment. The research and development effort resulted in the current microsatellite design that achieves a high level of safety and experiment flexibility.

Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, is the project’s prime contractor responsible for overall system design and development. ATA Aerospace of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the project’s integration and test contractor, and they also provide essential satellite operations support. Payload providers include Moog Broad Reach Engineering of Tempe, Arizona, NASA Goddard, ATA Aerospace, MIT/Lincoln Laboratory and Science Applications International Corporation of San Diego, California.