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Mon, Dec 07, 2009

Advanced Military Satellite Safely Reaches Orbit

Delta IV Launch Delivers Third Piece Of New Communications System

A new 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 boosters.

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 game-changer."

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