The International Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) Program
Aug 7/13: F6 Launch. Australia’s WGS-6 successfully lifts off aboard a Delta IV medium+ (5,4) configuration rocket, which means a 5m diameter payload fairing, and 4 strap-on boosters. All 3 WGS Block II satellites have been launched using this configuration, and WGS payloads make up all 4 of the configuration’s launches to date. Unlike past launches, this one was funded entirely by Australia.
About an hour later, controllers confirmed that WGS-6 was functioning as expected. As usual, it’s going to be a few months before the satellite is in its final orbit, handed over, tested by both Boeing and the USAF, and declared operational. Current estimates are for full operational status in early 2014.
USAF SMC MILSATCOM director Dave Madden is quoted as saying that the satellite’s final coverage area isn’t finalized yet, but any area it picks will overlap one or more of the other satellites. It doesn’t really matter, since Australia has bought into service from the whole constellation, and Australia’s areas of interest are already covered by existing birds. Australia DoD | ULA | ATK | Boeing | Spaceflight Now.
The US military needs a bigger data firehose. In an era of streaming data from proliferating UAVs and other persistent surveillance platforms, and the need for control of those systems anywhere in the world, bandwidth is almost as important as fuel. Commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) can fill some of the gaps, but it’s expensive, and may not be available when needed. The Wideband Gapfiller SATCOM (now Wideband Global SATCOM) program began as a way to ease these problems in the near term, but went on to become one of the twin pillars of US military communications, alongside the hardened AEHF constellation. Both satellite types expanded their roles after the super-high bandwidth T-SAT program was canceled. Instead, the USA is adding WGS and AEHF satellites in space, even as it makes both programs multi-national efforts here on earth.
WGS is a set of 13-kilowatt spacecraft based on Boeing’s model 702 commercial satellite. These satellites will handle a significant portion of the USA’s warfighting bandwidth requirements, supporting tactical C4ISR(command, control, communications, and computers; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance); battle management; and combat support needs. Upon its 2007 launch into geosynchronous orbit, WGS Flight 1 became the U.S. Department of Defense’s highest capacity communication satellite. WGS F4, launched in January 2012, offers further improvements, as do satellites from WGS F8. The constellation is set to grow to 10, including international participation.
This is DID’s FOCUS Article covering the WGS program’s specifications, budgets, travails, international partnerships, and contracts, with links to additional research materials.
WGS: Capabilities & Role
The WGS Program & Schedule
Budgets & Participants
WGS Industrial Team
WGS Program: Contracts & Key Events
FY 2001 – 2005
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