Most Powerful USAF Satcom Readied for Delta IV Launch Wednesday Night

File photo of a ULA Delta IV rocket standing by to deliver the sixth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-6) satellite to geosynchronous orbit for the U.S. Air Force. The WGS satellites are an important element of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to our troops in the field for the next decade and beyond. WGS-8 is scheduled to fly from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. as soon as this Wed., Dec 7. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

File photo of a ULA Delta IV rocket standing by to deliver the sixth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-6) satellite to geosynchronous orbit for the U.S. Air Force. The WGS satellites are an important element of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to our troops in the field for the next decade and beyond. WGS-8 is scheduled to fly from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., as soon as Wednesday, Dec. 7. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Medium+ rocket with four strap-on solid rocket motors is poised for the scheduled Dec. 7 launch of the eighth U.S. Air Force/Boeing Wideband Global Satcom (WGS-8).

The night liftoff from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 37 of the 217-foot-tall Delta IV, with a 47 x 17-foot payload faring, is scheduled for 6:53 pm EST, at the opening of a 49-minute launch window that closes at 7:42 pm EST. Follow our AmericaSpace WGS-8 Launch Tracker for regular updates & streaming live coverage of the launch.

The new spacecraft will provide the primary U.S., Canadian, and Australian WGS partners and other international military participants with a 45 percent increase in bandwidth in the WGS 8 coverage area, a major advance for what is already the most powerful military satcom constellation in the world.

A 13,000 lb. U.S. Air Force WGS Wideband Global Satcom is pushed along the assembly floor at Boeing's plant in El Segundo, Ca. Note dish antennas by technicians for scale. Photo Credit: Boeing

A 13,000-lb U.S. Air Force WGS Wideband Global Satcom is tested on the assembly floor at Boeing’s plant in El Segundo, Calif. Note dish antennas by technicians for scale. Photo Credit: Boeing

The 13,000-lb spacecraft will be released just east of Madagascar in a 27,000 x 240-mile super synchronous transfer orbit. Over the next month it will use its onboard bi-propellant propulsion system to lower the satellite to its 22,300-mile geosynchronous orbit. Xenon thrusters will be used for maneuvering and station keeping in geosynchronous orbit. Propellant consumed during the descent to its geosynchronous slot after four perigee and four apogee burns will reduce the spacecraft’s mass to 7,600 lbs.

Each WGS satellite provides high capacity service in both the X and Ka frequency bands, with the unprecedented ability to cross-band between the two frequencies onboard the satellite.

“This launch will significantly enhance the WGS constellation, demonstrating our commitment to the WGS mission of providing ever-increasing reliable and secure satellite communications,” said Charlotte Gerhart WGS-8 program manager at the Boeing Defense, Space & Security Facility in El Segundo, Calif.

“WGS-8 is the eighth of 10 high-capacity military communications satellites providing vital service for tactical forces that rely on WGS for connectivity to the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN). WGS-8 maintains the core capability to support X and Ka-band communications simultaneously, while also increasing communication capacity.

“With a new state-of-the-art digital channlizer, WGS-8 will increase communication capacity by approximately 45% more than previous WGS satellites. This increase in capacity will ensure U.S. and allied forces have the capability to effectively coordinate on all mission areas, including air, land, and naval warfare.”

The Air Force says the new spacecraft should be ready to deliver communication (including image and video relay) to the military services, including aircraft and submarines, in about seven months, after completing extensive on-orbit testing and relocation to its operational position. That constellation consists of seven previous WGS spacecraft positioned in geosynchronous orbit around the planet.

The first mission was launched in 2007 by an Atlas-V under a program that initially was a U.S./Australian partnership. Then, in 2012, Canada led a five country agreement including Denmark, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and New Zealand. As part of that, Canada agreed to pay $337 million for assembly and launch of the ninth WGS in 2017, while Australia paid about $700 million for both GPS 6 and its Delta IV launch costs.

The constellation consists of seven previous WGS spacecraft launched since 2007, and by 2020 will include 10 satellites. Although the intended WGS 8 location is classified, it is likely related to communications around Russia and China. The positions of the seven operational satellites are known and involve:

  • WGS 1, launched by an Atlas-V on Oct. 10, 2007, was parked over the Pacific to provide coverage from the west coast of North America to Southeast Asia.
  • WGS 2 was launched by an Atlas-V to a location over the Indian Ocean to provide U.S. Central Command with coverage of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of Southwest Asia.
  • WGS 3 was launched on a Delta-IV Medium+ on Dec. 6, 2009, to cover the Eastern Atlantic, including the U.S. European Command, Africa Command, and portions of the Middle East.
  • WGS 4, the first of the Block II satellites, was launched on a Delta-IV+ on Jan. 20, 2012, and configured to especially aid communications with U.S. drones operating in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and support U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.
AmericaSpace photo launch of ULA United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium Wideband Gloabl Satcom WGS 6 photo credit: Alan Walters AmericaSpace

File photo of a ULA Delta-IV rocket launching WGS-6. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

  • WGS 5 was launched by a Delta-IV medium+ on May 24, 2016, to provide to the U.S. and Canada, including Northern Command, Southern Command, Transportation Command, Strategic Command, the Missile Defense Agency, and a multitude of  other users in the Western Hemisphere.
  • WGS 6, to primarily service Australia and South and North America, was launched on a Delta-IV Medium+ on Aug. 7, 2013.
  • WGS 7 was launched on July 24, 2015, and was positioned over the Central Pacific to cover areas from Australia to Asia. All of these high power spacecraft are fully operational, with 14-year lifetimes, predicted from their individual launch dates, said Boeing.
  • WGS-8 will mark ULA’s 70th national security launch since the company was founded in 2006. This is the sixth flight in the Medium+ (5,4) configuration; all launches in this configuration have been for WGS missions.

The satellites enable more robust and flexible execution of Command and Control, Communications Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), as well as battle management and combat support functions. WGS satellites are important elements of a high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to America’s troops in the field for the next decade and beyond.

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