JUST IN: Space Force Partners with Norway to Launch Arctic Comms Satellites
To extend the service life of the U.S. military’s current Arctic communications system, the Space Force will deploy a pair of communications payloads on Norwegian satellites in early 2023.
The Arctic region is notoriously difficult for communications systems. “Communications satellites operating in geostationary Earth orbit do not cover the area of the Arctic,” according to the European Space Agency. “Even when a link can be made, it can be prone to interruption from icing on antennas, or from disruption caused by heavy seas.”
In 2019, the U.S. military established 24/7 protected communications for warfighters in the polar region when the Enhanced Polar System, or EPS, was declared fully operational. Hosted on satellites in highly elliptical orbit, the two EPS payloads provide around-the-clock military communications at latitudes of 65 degrees north and above.
The system has a 10-year lifespan, Space Systems Command 1st Lt. Matthew Philichi said in a press release. To bridge the gap between the Enhanced Polar System and its eventual replacement the Evolved Strategic Satcom — which is scheduled to launch in 2033, Philici said — the Space Force established the Enhanced Polar Systems–Recapitalization, or EPS-R, program to extend the EPS’ Arctic communications capabilities into the 2030s.
Built by Northrup Grumman, the two EPS-R payloads are scheduled to launch into orbit in early 2023 on Space Norway satellites.
“Norway was already building satellites, and so we asked if we could put our payloads on their satellites,” Gen. John W. Raymond, the Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations, said during a Wilson Center event on Aug. 31.
“They agreed,” he continued. “That saved us over $900 million [and] will get us into orbit three years faster than if we had to start from scratch.”
Developing international partnerships has been a point of emphasis for the Space Force, Raymond said.
“We've been working very hard at continuing to build and foster existing relationships and enter into new partnerships as well,” he said. “And I think that's one of the big wins that I would say that we've had after establishing the Space Force as an independent service,” he continued.
“We have really upped our game in the international collaboration piece, and it's something that provides us and our partners great advantage,” he said. “Historically we've been in the data sharing business, but today we operate together, we train together … and now, for the first time, we're really building capabilities together.”