Military Space Quarterly | Harris CapRock, Astrium Services To Offer UHF Solutions

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WASHINGTON — Harris CapRock Communications is teaming with Astrium Services of Europe to provide managed network services using UHF satellite capacity to international and U.S. government customers, Fairfax, Va.-based Harris CapRock announced July 10.

The companies signed a multiyear agreement in June to provide the service starting in the spring of 2013, David Cavossa, president of government solutions at Harris CapRock, said. The service initially will use UHF capacity aboard Britain’s commercially operated Skynet fleet of military communications satellites, he said.

The Skynet satellites are operated by Paradigm Secure Communications, a division of Astrium Services. The British government is the financier and primary user of the Skynet fleet, but Paradigm is free to market excess Skynet capacity to allied governments.

Harris CapRock will leverage its experience providing satellite terminals as well as end-to-end satellite network services to a variety of customers including the U.S. government, Cavossa said in a July 9 interview. CapRock owns considerable terrestrial infrastructure including 12 satellite teleports around the world, while parent company Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., is a longtime maker of UHF terminals, he said.

Cavossa said that in a “lot of the early sales calls the customers get it immediately. They go, ‘Oh, now I can use that Harris radio I already bought, or I’m planning to buy, and you are going to come in and bring me the bandwidth and the network that goes behind it, I don’t have to go to anybody else for it. Perfect — I’ll take it.’”

Cavossa said the primary target market for the service is governments with limited access to UHF satellite capacity. But the U.S. government, which operates a large fleet of UHF satellites and has just begun deploying a next-generation system, also is a target customer.

Even with the capacity boost expected from the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System, demand for UHF capacity, used for mainly tactical military applications including mobile services, is expected to exceed supply. Special operations forces and intelligence customers are expected to be the primary U.S. government customers, he said.

The Harris CapRock-Astrium partnership will not dramatically increase the amount of available UHF capacity, adding perhaps only 10 channels per year, Cavossa said. “But our projections are that given the sheer amount of demand out there, that all of this capacity will be taken up pretty quickly,” he said.

Cavossa declined to discuss the terms of the agreement between Astrium Services. Harris CapRock also is negotiating with Intelsat on the possibility of leveraging that company’s UHF satellite capacity, he said. Cavossa said that he hopes to have a deal with Intelsat before the end of the calendar year.

Washington and Luxembourg-based Intelsat, the world’s largest commercial satellite operator, has added a UHF payload to its IS 27 satellite, under construction by Boeing Satellite Systems and scheduled for launch next year. To date, however, the U.S. government has not signed on as a customer for the capacity despite gaps in its own UHF communications capabilities.

Don Brown, vice president of business development and hosted payload programs at Intelsat General Corp., the company’s government services division, said Intelsat does not comment on contract negotiations.

“We welcome the Harris Caprock announcement as another indication that there is robust demand for UHF communications globally,” Brown said via email July 10 in a prepared statement. “Commercially provided UHF satcom has served the US government well for over 35 years, and it is good to see new sources for this vital communications link.”

Intelsat and Harris CapRock, which does not operate satellites, have had their differences in the past. In 2010, Harris CapRock was among several parties to a complaint that Intelsat, which by virtue of its legacy as an international cooperative has access to several choice orbital positions, had engaged in anticompetitive practices in U.S. government satellite services procurements.