U.S. and international partners to share launch cost of new communications satellite

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WGS partner nations include Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway. The U.S. also has a separate agreement with Australia.

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are in talks with international users of the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) communications satellites about a cost-sharing agreement to fund the launch of the new WGS-11+. 

“The Department of the Air Force and the U.S. Space Force conducted exploratory discussions with current WGS partners and two new partners to meet the costs associated with launch and ground integration of WGS 11+ throughout its acquisition strategy development,” Keith Anderson, business and financial manager for military satcom international partners, told SpaceNews Feb. 22 in a statement. 

Anderson’s office is under the U.S. Space Systems Command, in Los Angeles. The command is buying WGS-11+, currently being developed by Boeing and projected to launch in 2024. It is the 11th satellite of the WGS constellation.

WGS satellites provide broadband communications to the U.S. military and allies.

The Pentagon never intended to buy WGS-11+ but Congress directed it. The Air Force’s budget request in 2018 did not include any funding for WGS satellites beyond the 10 already ordered from Boeing, leading Congress to add $600 million for two new satellites. 

The Air Force said the funding was only enough for one satellite but it would have significantly more capacity. It awarded Boeing a $605 million contract in April 2019 to design and build WGS-11+. 

The congressional add-on did not include money to launch the satellite — which could cost $150 million — so the Space Force is seeking contributions from international partners that use the WGS satellites. 

WGS partner nations include Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway. The U.S. also has a separate bilateral agreement with Australia. Anderson said Australia is not a signatory on the multilateral WGS 11+ agreement, which pays for launch costs, but is still a partner in the overall WGS program.

Two new partner nations are in discussions to join the coalition but their identities have not yet been disclosed.

Partners in the past have contributed funding for ground integration of WGS satellites and other services to ensure access to the constellation. 

“At this time, all currently signed partners have committed to providing additional funding to the WGS program, subject to the successful conclusion of an international agreement,” said Anderson.

The $600 million appropriated by Congress “allowed Space Systems Command to procure a robust satellite vehicle, roughly doubling the capacity of the earlier WGS-10,” Anderson said. “There was enthusiastic interest from international partners to collaborate on WGS 11+, allowing partners to provide additional funding for the program, including some launch costs.”

The launch will be procured through the U.S. Space Force’s National Security Space Launch program.