New Communication Satellites Poised to Boost Capacity Ten-Fold
The Air Force is planning to launch the second Advanced-EHF satellite May 3. Once that completes its on-orbit checkouts next year, it will crosslink to the first spacecraft in the constellation, as well as the legacy Milstar satellites the system is designed to replace, and give forces on the ground 10 times more throughput for communications, said Dave Madden, Air Force Advanced-EHF program director.
It has been a long, tortured road for the A-EHF system. The first satellite was launched four years behind schedule.It then suffered a glitch in the propulsion system after it separated from the Atlas 5 rocket that sent it to orbit in August 2010. In order to save onboard fuel, the Air Force decided to take a year to bring the spacecraft to its ultimate destination in geosynchronous orbit some 25,000 miles above Earth. The journey from low-Earth orbit would have normally taken about three weeks.
Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. William Shelton said at the conference that there will be no loss to the operational life of the satellite as a result of the delay.
"It took extraordinary creativity to save this vehicle," said Madden. It was a daily challenge over the course of the year to make sure it didn't end up stuck in low-Earth orbit. Since the second spacecraft was not due to be launched until this year, it was decided to do the slow climb. There is now no reason to believe that the first spacecraft won't have enough fuel to last its expected 10- to 14-year lifetime, and perform four or five maneuvers during that timespan to change orbital positions if its services are needed in different regions, he added.
Once the second satellite is cross linked to the first, ground forces who are underneath its footprint will be able to uplink and downlink 10 times more data than the Milstar satellites. Those who are under a Milstar satellite will not be able to transmit as much data, but the older spacecraft will be able to link to the Advanced-EHF, and downlink at the higher capacity.
Its ability to prevent communications from being intercepted or transmissions from being jammed will also be orders of magnitude better than the Milstar system, Madden said. The Extended Data Rate waveform is one of the most complex the Air Force has ever deployed, Madden said.
The Air Force is planning for a series of eight Advanced-EHF satellites to be launched at about one per year until 2018, he said.
The Netherlands, Canada and United Kingdom helped fund the construction of the second spacecraft and will have access to the Advanced-EHF system (but not the Milstars), Madden said. U.S. Strategic Command, in consultation with the three partner nations, will decide later what regions the first two spacecraft will service, Madden said.