Six Long-awaited satellite projects eye the sky

Hot satellites to beam superior GPS, communications bandwidth


Three new satellites set to take their place in space this year and three more in the next four years could go a long way toward making Global Positioning Systems, military and private communications and national security capabilities much stronger than they are today. The Government Accountability Office recently issued a report looking at these six strategic systems and the challenges they face which we have summarized here.

Global Positioning System

Bigger, better GPS: The first $1.7 billion Global Positioning System satellite is expected to launch mid-2010. It is expected to upgrade timing and navigation accuracy, and add a new signal for civilian use. The satellite has been delayed over three years causing some to speculate the GPS systems so many applications depend on will fail . According to Boeing, the prime contractor, the new satellite will offer two times greater predicted signal accuracy than older satellites and an in-orbit, reprogrammable processor, capable of receiving software uploads for improved system operation.

Advanced Extremely High Frequency

Bolstering bandwidth: The Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), is slated to launch in September 2010, and is expected to deliver 10 times the communications bandwidth that is available today for secure and protected communications, according to the GAO. The launch of the first satellite has slipped almost six years. The Pentagon intends to buy three more satellites, bringing the total to six. The fully operational AEHF constellation will offer coverage of the Earth and provide more data throughput and coverage than ever before, says Lockheed Martin, the prime builder of these satellites. The AEHF system is the follow-on to the Pentagon's Milstar highly secure communication satellite program, which currently has a four-satellite operational constellation. The last Milstar satellite was successfully launched in April 2003.

Space Based Infrared System

Missile warning: The first Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite is expected to launch in 2010 and is expected to provide improved space situational awareness of all satellites and other objects in space . The first of four geosynchronous earth-orbiting (GEO) satellites (two sensors have already been launched on an elliptical orbit) is expected to launch in December 2010 and is expected to continue the missile warning mission with sensors that are more capable than the satellites currently on orbit, according to the GAO.

National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System

Environment watcher: The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is supposed to offer next-generation weather , atmosphere, oceans, land and near-space environment monitoring capabilities. However the system is one that according to the GAO faces a number of challenges which has pushed its launch date from April 2009 to March 2014. NPOESS was originally estimated to cost $6.5 billion but the latest estimate is about $13.2 billion.

Mobile User Objective System

Military communications: Set for a Dec. 2011 launch, the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) communications satellite is a narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve military ground communications. Lockheed Martin says MUOS will replace the current narrowband tactical satellite communications system known as the Ultra High Frequency Follow-On system. Originally set to launch this month, MUOS has faced technical and budgetary challenges.


Powerful GPS and more: GPS IIIA: The current plan is for the first GPS IIIA systems to launch in May 2014. According to Lockheed Martin, when fully deployed, the GPS III constellation will feature a cross-linked command and control architecture, letting the entire GPS constellation be updated simultaneously from a single ground station. A new spot beam capability for enhanced military coverage and increased resistance to hostile jamming will be incorporated. These enhancements will contribute to improved accuracy and assured availability for military and civilian users worldwide. These satellites are expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 times more powerful than current systems.

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