Delta IV Launch Delivers Third Piece Of New Communications
configuration of the Delta IV rocket left its Florida launch pad on
Saturday around 8:47 pm carrying a next-generation Air Force
satellite. Lift-off occurred at the very end of a
90-minute launch window and after several days of delay caused by
unfavorable weather around Cape Canaveral.
The success is good news for United Launch Alliance (ULA), a
2006 joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA had
never flown this specific configuration of the rocket with the
larger 5-meter payload shroud and a total of 4 strap-on
ULA provides both the Atlas and Delta
families of expendable rockets for the DOD and NASA. The high
success rate for ULA vehicles has been quoted in recent talk of
revisions to NASA's moon plans. Improved versions of Delta and
Atlas vehicles have been proposed as replacements for the Ares I
rocket being developed internally by NASA.
The rocket's payload was the third Wideband Global SATCOM
(WGS-3) spacecraft, a $300 million, 6.5 ton satellite. There
are a total of six satellites being developed by defense
departments in the US and Australia as a part of a new
high-capacity communications system.
WGS replaces the current Defense
Satellite Communication System (DSCS) that has been in operation
for more than two decades. The older system cannot process
the high data rates common in today's technology. Troops in
Afghanistan and Iraq are already benefitting from vast improvements
in communications provided by the two WGS spacecraft already in
orbit, including downloads of up to 2.4 Gigabits/second.
Air Force Maj. Mark Hadley, a deputy program manager for WGS
explained the impact of the new system on military capabilities.
"It provides voice, data and commanding at about 10 times the data
rate that was previously available," said Hadley. "It really is a