USAF: Commercial Sats Could Host EHF Payloads

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A U.S. Air Force official on April 14 suggested placing small extremely high frequency (EHF) payloads on commercial telecommunications satellites around the world as a way of saving costs and reducing the size and complexity of the military’s current Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF, spacecraft.

Maj. Gen. John E. Hyten, director of space programs in the office of the assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, said the current AEHF satellites have multiple missions, including nuclear command and control functions that require the spacecraft to survive a nuclear detonation in orbit.

While that remains a crucial function, many of the EHF communications services these satellites provide do not need to be nuclear-hardened, a procedure that adds substantial cost to satellites.

“It doesn’t need a nuclear-hardened satellite,” Hyten said in an address to the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Small EHF payloads around the world would provide a better service to users.”

Hyten said the idea of offloading some of the EHF functions of the AEHF satellites is one example of the kind of thinking now occurring in the Pentagon about how to make less-complicated satellites, while at the same time leveraging opportunities provided by commercial satellite fleet owners.

Several of these companies are positioning themselves to provide space aboard their communications satellites for small military payloads, so long as the military can respect commercial deadlines.