Launch of Delta IV WGS-6
August 8, 2013

Latest Military Satellite Launches, Australia Foots The Bill

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

On Wednesday, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket delivered the latest addition to an international network of military communications satellites.

The sixth Wideband Global Satcom, or WGS, satellite was paid for by the Australian government and will be used to transmit video conferencing signals and television broadcasts, along with official communications from the United States and its international partners.

"These satellites provide tremendous operational flexibility," said Dave Madden, director of military satellite communications at the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

Madden noted that the system allows for communications through X-band and Ka-band, different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that are used to send and receive communication signals.

"A Navy ship can be operating in X-band ... and communicate with someone else operating with a Ka-band terminal, and vice-versa," he said. "The satellite does that conversion for them. That way we can cross-talk across the services and across capabilities."

Madden added that the satellite is capable of handling "large amounts of data, video type information, two commanders trying to talk to each other over video teleconference, share information, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data, large files that have to move through the system."

The 21-story rocket lifted off from the launch pad at 8:29 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. Around 20 minutes after launch, the rocket entered a preliminary orbit. The satellite payload was then released 40 minutes after liftoff - around 9:09 p.m.

The sixth WGS satellite was placed into an orbit with a high point of more than 41,000 miles and a low point of 274 miles above the Earth. After a month of testing, Boeing is expected to turn over control of the satellite to the Air Force.

The Australian government paid over $700 million for the creation and launch of the satellites. As part of a deal with the Air Force, Australia is allowed to use a share of the WGS network through 2029.

"This sharing of resources is very consistent with what the Department of Defense wants to do to form stronger coalitions with our allied partnerships, to share costs of operations," Madden said. "It really helps all parties."

Other countries using the WGS system include Canada, Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands and New Zealand. Madden said the US military is still looking for at least one additional partner to finance additional satellites.

"When budgets get tight, it actually forces people to think more and work harder together," he said. "I think the reductions in the budgets are going to enable us to form some very strong partnerships with a lot of our allied partners that will significantly bring down our operating costs of system and create better interoperability between our forces when we deploy together."

The WGS system replaces the Defense Satellite Communications System spacecraft with 10 times the capacity. The system's first satellite was launched in 2007, followed by two more satellites in 2009. The cost of those first three satellites was pegged at around $800 million. The next group of four satellites is expected to have a final cost of around $1.6 billion.