New Air Force satellites will augment Milstar

New Air Force satellites will augment Milstar

The two AEHF satellites will be compatible with the existing Milstar satellites, but will offer much greater data capacity.

The Air Force plans to launch two communications satellites over the next six years that will yield a tenfold increase in bandwidth over the current Milstar satellite system.

The $2.69 billion advanced extremely high frequency (AEHF) satellite program will include the two satellites and a ground command and control system, giving the military greater capability to transmit information such as maps, videos and targeting data.

The Air Force last month awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin Corp. and TRW Inc. to develop and field the system.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor and will develop the vehicle that will carry the system into space as well as the mission control segment. TRW Inc. will work on the development of the satellites, serving as the payload integrator.

The project will consolidate Milstar, a joint satellite system for secure, jam-resistant worldwide communications by high-priority military users, and AEHF control and communications into one modernized mission control system, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

The advanced satellites will eventually replace the troubled Milstar program, which had a failed launch two years ago. Currently, there are three Milstar satellites in orbit.

An Air Force Milstar II satellite was shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla., where it will be launched next month. The last Milstar satellite is scheduled for launch in November 2002.

'The AEHF satellites will be backward-compatible with the Milstar satellites,' according to the Air Force official, who declined to be identified.

'This enables the AEHF satellites and the Milstar satellites to operate within the same constellation. Over time, as the Milstar constellation ages, the resultant constellation will consist of only AEHF satellites,' the official said.

The satellites will have 10 times the bandwidth of Milstar at half the cost, Air Force officials said. This will allow the service to communicate at a much higher data rate than before.

'Additionally, AEHF will service a significantly larger geographically dispersed terminal population as compared to Milstar,' said the Air Force official.

The contract award means Lockheed Martin can begin the system development and demonstration phase of the program. Jeff Harris, president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Missiles & Space Operations, said the satellites will fill a critical communications need.

'The result of this effort will be an advanced EHF system that delivers the coverage, capacity, connectivity and flexibility needed to provide unprecedented levels of assured communications interoperability for our armed forces,' Harris said in a news release.

The first of the satellites will be launched in June 2006. The second will follow a year later. The placement of the satellites will be based on operational requirements at the time of launch, officials said.

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