The U.S. Space Force conducted its first launch Thursday, sending a military communications satellite into orbit.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket blasted the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Congrats @ulalaunch on today’s successful launch of #AEHF6—our 1st USSF Nat’l Security Space Launch!” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond tweeted Thursday, thanking those involved in the project.

The launch, deemed mission essential, went ahead Thursday despite the coronavirus outbreak that has infected at least 280 U.S. troops and disrupted training exercises, overseas deployments and other military activities.

The Lockheed Martin-built AEHF satellites are replacing the older Milstar constellation of military communication satellites. The sixth AEHF is the last one in the $15 billion program, with the Air Force having launched the other five before the Space Force’s creation.

The Space Force was created in December with the signing of the annual defense policy bill.

Its establishment fulfilled a top priority for President Trump since he first floated the idea in 2018 and turned it into a reliable applause line at his campaign rallies.

Though Trump coined the name Space Force, the idea for a separate branch of the military for space originated as a bipartisan House idea in 2017.

The new service is aimed at protecting U.S. assets in space, such as satellites, from earthly threats, including U.S. adversaries Russia and China.

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