Air Force reviewing Boeing’s bid for WGS-11, projects satellite could be ready in five years
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force and Boeing are still negotiating the terms of a $605 million deal the company was awarded in April for the production of the 11th satellite of the Wideband Global Satellite Communication (WGS) constellation. The Air Force estimates the satellite could be ready for launch in about five years if an agreement is reached soon. One of the sticking points is the use of WGS-11 as a platform for hosted payloads.
The terms of the contract with Boeing for WGS-11 production are actively being negotiated, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center said in a statement to SpaceNews.
The deal announced April 19 was an “undefinitized contract action” which means that many of the details have not been agreed to. SMC is reviewing Boeing’s proposal “along with potential hosted payload options,” said SMC’s statement. The five-year timeline could slip if a definitive contract is not signed in the near future.
WGS program office and Boeing leaders are preparing for an upcoming “system requirements review,” SMC said. One of the items under discussion is making WGS-11 a “viable government host platform for rapid prototyping efforts.” SMC did not provide further details on what specific efforts are being discussed.
The WGS constellation of 10 satellites provides broadband communications to the U.S. military and allies.
WGS-11 is being funded with money that Congress inserted into the fiscal year 2018 budget for satellites the Air Force never intended to buy in the first place. Congress appropriated $600 million above the Air Force’s budget request to procure WGS-11 and WGS-12. But that was not enough money to buy two satellites and launch them to orbit. SMC proposed instead to procure a single vehicle with twice the capacity of a legacy WGS satellite. SMC said the undefinitized contract includes an “option for a Boeing managed delivery in orbit launch option” but that option is not included within the $605 million baseline contract.
A Boeing spokesperson said the company is proposing to build WGS-11 with its latest digital payload and bus technology but declined to provide specifics.
SMC said Boeing in its WGS-11 bid is “incorporating the same technologies offered to their commercial communication satellite customers. This technology provides enhanced flexibility, superior coverage and improved resiliency.”
Boeing has been the WGS prime contractor since 2001. The first satellite was launched in 2007. The WGS-10 vehicle launched March 15 was meant to be the last of the constellation. The Air Force has been studying alternatives to replace WGS in the coming decade, such as buying commercial broadband services from the private sector. But Congress in March 2018 unexpectedly added $600 million for the procurement of more satellites.
WGS has become a multinational program. In exchange for access to a portion of the WGS constellation, Australia provided funds for WGS-6 while Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand helped fund WGS-9.
“We are currently exploring the potential for adding new international partners to WGS with investment in WGS-11,” said SMC. “Unfortunately, we cannot release any details until after the completion of an international agreement.”
The newest satellite, WGS-10, is being tested on orbit and is expected to enter service in October 2020 “at which point all 10 will be in service as long as they remain mission capable,” SMC said. The current ground system will be modified as WGS-11 will have a new payload and bus designs. “Basic capabilities of the ground systems will mirror current legacy functions but will have to adapt to the new bus and Ka phased array.” WGS satellites operate in the X-band and Ka-band.
Currently WGS supplies the majority of DoD’s wideband demand, and the military supplements WGS services with commercial broadband when demand surges during conflicts or other crises. According to SMC, the Air Force is “actively pursuing a hybrid architecture that will integrate all satcom capabilities and allow users to leverage military and commercial networks as well as capabilities provided by our international partners.”