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Space Force building ground station in Alaska ahead of launch of Arctic satcom mission

Satellite terminals in Alaska will be the main connection to the new EPS-R payloads that will launch in 2023
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall met and thanked Airmen, Guardians, and civilians for their dedication to providing 24/7 missile warning, missile defense, and space domain awareness at Clear Space Force Station, Dec. 21, 2021. Kendall visited team Clear SFS to wish them happy holidays. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force has started building a gateway site at Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, where it will operate two new polar communications payloads scheduled to launch in 2023 on a Space Norway mission.

The Space Systems Command’s satellite communications office broke ground earlier this week to prepare the site to serve as a gateway for the Enhanced Polar Systems-Recapitalization (EPS-R) payloads, the command said in a news release. 

Satcom terminals at Clear will be the main connection to the new EPS-R payloads that will launch next year on Space Norway’s Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission known as ASBM.

The EPS-R payloads, developed by Northrop Grumman, will fly to highly elliptical orbits on two ASBM satellites projected to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 

The EPS-R gateway segment is estimated to cost about $4 million. It also includes facilities at Naval Base Point Loma, and the Army’s Camp Roberts, in California. It’s a joint project led by the Space Force, the Naval Information Warfare Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The EPS-R are Extremely High Frequency Extended Data Rate payloads that will provide secure communications services for U.S. forces operating in the north polar region.  The ASBM mission includes communications payloads for the Norwegian Ministry of Defense and for British satellite operator Inmarsat. 

The two EPS-R payloads will augment two existing Enhanced Polar Systems satellites also made by Northrop Grumman. 

The project has been praised by U.S. defense officials as an example of international cooperation on space programs.

“The EPS-R system is crucial to multiple military services for warfighters in the polar region,” said 1st Lt. Timothy Phelps, EPS-R gateway and terminals team lead.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...