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October 7, 2009—WGS-2, the Air Force’s second Wideband Global Satellite Communications spacecraft, is now fully operational and supporting ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by relaying data and imagery across the battlespace at unprecedented high rates of speed, according to Boeing.

Launched in April and now residing in geosynchronous Earth orbit over the Indian Ocean, WGS-2 was cleared for use back in August by US Strategic Command, the company divulged in a release Tuesday. STRATCOM announced back in August that it had taken control of WGS-2, but not that the satellite was operational.

WGS-2 is supplanting the commercial communications satellites that have been used over that region in the past to support the US military. It is also designed, as all WGS spacecraft are, to replace the Air Force’s legacy Defense Satellite Communications System spacecraft.

As an indication of its power, Boeing notes that one WGS satellite has more than 12 times the throughput capacity of a single DSCS satellite.

That improvement is really significant, said Bill Reiner, assistant director of satellite communications and cyber security for Boeing’s government operations sector.

“It’s going to matter” to special operations forces and Army troops wanting to set up a network quickly in tactical situations and then be able to pick up and move quickly to another area and do the same, he told reporters Wednesday at the Association of the US Army conference in Washington, D.C.,

He added, “Because of the high power of this satellite, you can use smaller antennas [and move] similar amounts of data.”

WGS-2 joins WGS-1, which sits over the Pacific Ocean and has been operational since April 2008, supporting US military operations in the entire Pacific region. Boeing says WGS-1 has been meeting and exceeding expectations.

Boeing is under contract to build six WGS satellites for the Air Force, but the service has already indicated a desire for more. Indeed, it has already included advanced procurement funding for a seventh WGS satellite in its Fiscal 2010 budget request.

The WGS design is supposed to have a 14-year operational life, but Reiner said estimates are that the satellites may actually last for up to 19 years.

Reiner said WGS-3, the next satellite in the series, is slated for launch in November. It will reside in orbit over the eastern Atlantic Ocean, providing coverage of the US east coast, Europe, Africa, and like WGS-2, the Middle East and Central Asia, thereby augmenting WGS-2 there.

Already the first three WGS satellites alone will provide “nearly worldwide coverage” in the X-band and Ka-band, leaving the middle of the continental US as the only major area not yet supported, he said.

WGS-3 will be the last spacecraft in the Block I configuration. The next three WGS spacecraft will be in the Block II configuration, which adds a radio-frequency bypass feature increases the transfer rate of imagery from RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft from 137 megabits per second to 274 Mbps, said Reiner.

Next year, the Army will field new satellite ground terminals that will allow for some communications on the move in the Ka-band using the WGS satellites, said Reiner.

The comm-on-the-move capability will not be as robust as what was envisioned under the Air Force now-terminated Transformational Satellite Communications program. But “at about 256 kilobits per second to a small terminal,” this will still be “more than any other system can deliver to the warfighter” right now, he said.

He characterized this as a “dramatic” improvement, especially when considering that WGS satellites were originally not envisioned to support comm on the move.

With the Air Force’s desire for more than six WGS spacecraft and the cancellation of TSAT in the fall of 2008, Boeing has been exploring evolutionary upgrades featuring TSAT technology that could be incorporated into the WGS design after spacecraft No. 6, said Reiner.

“That’s good news for the country because the nation spent about $2 billion developing TSAT technology over the last six years or so,” he said.

Reiner noted that the WGS design has the capacity to carry up to 1,000 pounds of additional payload and has the growth potential to provide up to several more kilowatts of additional onboard power. The net result would be accommodating more equipment that would support comm on the move more robustly, he said.

Since getting the first six satellites up in space on schedule is a priority, he said he doesn’t envision changes being made to any of them. WGS-4 and WGS-5 are scheduled for launch in 2011, while WGS is set for placement in orbit in 2012.

Australia joined the WGS program in November 2007. In exchange for funding the sixth satellite, it will have access to the constellation for its own military communications needs.