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News | Nov. 5, 2018

A star is born: DCMA helps augment high-tech satellite constellation

By Luis Delgadillo DCMA Western Region Public Affairs

With the successful launch of the fourth Advanced Extreme High Frequency satellite Oct. 17, the Defense Contract Management Agency helped the Air Force reach a new milestone in the Department of Defense’s Joint Service Satellite Communications System.

As news of the satellite’s launch and its subsequent successful operation spread, the DCMA Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale team could finally celebrate the completion of their AEHF-4 role. Leading up to the launch, DCMA personnel were confident their collaboration with aerospace partners would pay off but the satellite’s successful operation meant that everyone could breathe easier.

“Our team works closely with Lockheed Martin to overcome challenges and deliver advanced capabilities to the warfighter,” said Rita Bruce, the AEHF program integrator, who leads DCMA LM Sunnyvale’s multi-functional team.

DCMA’s main roles during Lockheed Martin Space’s manufacture of the satellite included quality assurance, engineering and analysis, and contract administration. In short, acquisition insight.

“Collaboration and teamwork with our joint government and industry partners is key to success, and AEHF-4 showcases our ability to deliver,” said Bruce.

Close coordination with other partners was also key when the satellite was transported from the Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California, manufacturing location to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida July 26.

Once officials completed testing, DCMA marked the next milestone, the encapsulation of the AEHF-4, Sept 26.

"The AEHF-4 encapsulation was a significant milestone toward increasing our nation’s strategic capabilities and echoes continued success of everyone who supports the AEHF program," said Air Force Col. Shawn McCamish, DCMA LM Sunnyvale commander. “I’m proud of our DCMA team for assuring the quality and on-time delivery of this national asset.”

Taking only a few days, the encapsulation may not seem as risky as getting the launch vehicle’s payload into orbit but the process still requires precision. Especially when one considers that the $1.4 billion satellite is taking a ride on United Launch Alliance’s most power configuration Atlas V, the 551.

This Atlas launch vehicle is a part of DCMA Lockheed Martin Denver’s portfolio. Among other features, it includes the main engine and three solid rocket boosters of the Atlas V 400 configuration plus two additional solid rocket boosters. In other words, the right amount of power needed to safely carry a critical warfighter asset.

The AEHF system is the nation's protected strategic and tactical satellite communications program. Lockheed Martin is contracted to deliver six AEHF satellites and corresponding mission control capabilities. Prior to the launch, there were three operational satellites in orbit. The fifth and sixth satellites are on schedule to reach orbit in 2019 and 2020.

“Many improvements are being made in satellites 5 and 6 but DCMA support of the AEHF program will slow down as each satellite is launched,” said Air Force Capt. Jordan Wall, the DCMA LM Sunnyvale AEHF deputy program integrator. But despite the shift in workload, Wall said the next evolution of satellite technology is always coming down the road.

As that happens, DCMA’s role in delivering acquisition insight will continue to grow.