Boeing Exec Touts Potential To Upgrade WGS Satellite System

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Boeing Co. believes that it has significant power and weight margin to modify its Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites to accommodate capabilities that were envisioned for the U.S. Air Force’s futuristic Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) system, which was canceled early this year.

Boeing has more than 454 kilograms and around 3 kilowatts or 4 kilowatts of power to spare aboard the 702 platform used with the WGS satellites, according to Ken Torok, vice president for navigation and communications at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems. This capacity could accommodate additional links for intelligence and reconnaissance aircraft, improved security and the capability to connect to troops on the move, Torok said during a press briefing at the Milcom 2009 conference. Upgrading the WGS would be far less expensive than building the T-Sat satellites, he said.

Two WGS satellites are in orbit today — over the Middle East and the Pacific Ocean — and are exceeding the military’s performance expectations, Torok said. The third satellite in the constellation is expected to launch Nov. 18 aboard a Delta 4 rocket, he said. The first two WGS satellites launched aboard Atlas 5 rockets.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. had competed to build the T-Sat system. Both companies are now studying potential upgrades to their existing satellites to compensate following the Pentagon’s decision this spring to cancel the program. Lockheed Martin is prime contractor on the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency and the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System satellite constellations.

Adding capacity to the WGS satellites would be relatively straightforward, and could begin with the seventh satellite in the constellation, which the Air Force has yet to order, Torok said. Improving resistance to jamming and adding links for troops on the move are more challenging, but still feasible, he said.

While Boeing could boost the security of the WGS signals, the company does not envision hardening the satellites to operate in a nuclear-war environment, particularly since the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites are designed to handle that task, Torok said.