Watch ULA launch an upgraded military satellite into space Wednesday night

CHLOE

Three, two, one, blast off!

Centennial-based United Launch Alliance is scheduled to launch a newly upgraded military communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Wednesday night. The mission will deliver the eighth in a series of Wideband Global SATCOMs (WGS) that will improve overall Air Force communications for Australia and the United States.

United Launch Alliance is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. The Centennial-based partnership formed in December 2006 to provide launch services to the U.S. government.

The WGS-8, produced by Boeing, costs an estimated $425 million but should significantly improve military communications due to a new upgrade that will close to double its bandwidth allocation — meaning much faster communication from the satellite down to earth.

That upgrade is a digital channelizer. The channelizer improves communications by dividing bandwidth into 1,900 sub-channels, providing more routes for transmission, Space News reported. To put that in layman’s terms, the existing fleet of seven Wideband Global satellites supports about data transmission at about 16 Gbps. The WGS-8 can support 11 Gbps all on its own, according to ULA.

The satellite supports communication in both the X-band frequency, generally used to monitor weather, air traffic, maritime vessels control and defense tracking, and the Ka-band frequency, which is used for communication. The WGS will also include anti-jamming mechanisms.

“We see the information age has resulted in an explosion of communication needs for everybody,” Rico Attanasio, the director of Boeing MILSATCOM programs, told Space News. “For our armed forces, wideband communications are necessary for the people that defend the United States.”

The digital channelizer will also be included on the WGS-9, scheduled to launch in March 2017, due to a $111 million add-on to Boeing’s original contract, Defense Daily reported.

By 2019, the WGS-9 and -10 will join existing Wideband Global satellites, bringing the total up to 10. But Thomas Becht, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center told Space News that after the launch of WGS-10, the military may explore commercial options for future communications.

The WGS-8 will launch on a ULA Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Wednesday, Dec. 7. The launch window opens at 6:53 p.m. eastern. Watch it live on ULA’s website.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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