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Eighth WGS communications satellite ordered by military

Posted: December 21, 2011

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As anticipated, the U.S. Air Force has followed through with plans to purchase an eighth military communications satellite for its Wideband Global SATCOM program from The Boeing Company.

Illustration shows a WGS satellite in space. Credit: Boeing
Three of the spacecraft have successfully been deployed into operations 22,300 miles above Earth in geosynchronous orbit and a fourth is being readied at Cape Canaveral for blastoff atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on Jan. 19.

Production of the latest satellite in the series is valued at $354 million in total, including long-lead parts that were ordered for $58 million in August and now the $296 million authorization to proceed with full construction, launch and on-orbit activation.

The purchase comes as part of the WGS Block 2 Follow-on contract covering options for satellites 7, 8, and 9.

The Defense Department and Boeing have been working to streamline future WGS spacecraft, building upon the program's heritage to reduce testing costs and lower the overall prices by 12-15 percent through a commercial-like operating model, officials have said.

The Air Force cites savings of more than $100 million in the new program ordering strategy.

WGS is becoming the military's communications backbone as the new birds replace the aging Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) spacecraft. Each WGS has 10 times the capacity of a DSCS satellite, allowing users to process and receive data quicker than before.

Officials expect to have the first six WGS satellites in space by the summer of 2013. The subsequent spacecraft will follow in the middle of the decade.

WGS satellites supply communications such as maps and data to soldiers on the battlefield, route voice calls and data messaging, and even offer quality-of-life considerations like television broadcasts and email delivery to the troops.

The craft operate simultaneously in X- and Ka-band frequencies and provide for crossbanding to various user terminals in the hands of warfighters around the globe. The Air Force says the system currently collects and routes real-time data through more than 3,100 Ka-band, 700 X-band and 400 X/Ka-band terminals in all theaters of operation.