Advanced EHF – Wait for It

Lockheed Martin announced that it has delivered the flight structure for the third space vehicle in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) program for integration with its propulsion subsystem.

But the first launch won’t happen until 2010, years later than originally planned.

Each of the three Advanced EHF satellites (wikipedia) employs more than 50 communications channels via multiple, simultaneous downlinks. Launch of the first AEHF satellite was originally delayed until April 2008, with the second AEHF satellite scheduled for launch in April 2009.

The AEHF system is integrated, tested and launched by Lockheed Martin; while Northrop Grumman builds and integrates the AEHF payload — processors, antennas, radio frequency subsystems and crosslinks.

UPDATE: The follow-on to the Advanced EHF satellite, which uses radio to interlink satellites, was expected to be the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) using a laser beams for intra-satellite links. The price tag on the total TSAT program was expected to be $14-25 billion through 2016. But in April 2009, Secretary of Defence Robert M. Gates asked that the project be canceled in its entirety. It looks like Advanced EHF will be it for a while. Once it gets up.

The AEHF constellation consists of three cross-linked satellites covering the globe from 65 degrees north to 65 degrees south. It will provide data rates up to 8.192 Mbps per user, as well as Milstar Low Data Rate (LDR) services (75 – 2400 bits per second), and Milstar Medium Data Rate (MDR) services (4.8 Kbps – 1.544 Mbps).

The AEHF program has had many billions in cost overruns. Unit cost on Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellites (AEHF) has increased by more than 50%.

The MILSATCOM Joint Program Office, located at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, is the contract manager and lead agency for the Advanced EHF program.

Boeing has demonstrated the ability of the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) to link from one satellite to another using a laser beam in “a simulated space environment”. The MILSATCOM Joint Program Office and the National Reconnaissance Office co-sponsored the Lasercom demonstration. The Air Force has tapped Johns Hopkins to integrate high-speed laser communications links.

Boeing’s TSAT team includes Raytheon, Ball Aerospace, General Dynamics, IBM, L-3 Communications, Cisco, BBN, Hughes Network Systems, Lucent, Harris, EMS Technologies, ICE and Alpha Informatics. The Air Force plans to select a primary TSAT Space Segment contractor in December 2007.

Costs for the DOD’s major space programs have increased roughly $12.2 billion – or almost 44 percent – above initial estimates for fiscal years 2006 through 2011, according to GAO’s Nov. 17 report (pdf, above), prepared for the House Armed Services Subcommittee. A cost overrun of 25 percent requires Congressional approval to continue.

Estimated costs for NPOESS, NOAA’s polar orbiting satellite ballooned from $6 billion to $11 billion. Congressman David Wu called them on it (DailyWireless: Crisis at NOAA).

Commercial satellites tend to stay on budget. Take, for example Ka band internet access from WildBlue. WildBlue 1, one of the world’s first commercial all Ka-band satellites, provides 35 spotbeams from 111.1° West for 2-way internet access as low as $50/month.

Innovative satphone services using spot beams (below) are expected in a year or two from MSV and TerraStar.

MSV contracted with Boeing to build three mega-satellites (left) for a combined cost of up to $1 billion for mobile satellite phone service. Each of the satellite’s primary 1.6 GHz band antennas will be almost 75 feet across. They’ll be launched in 2009 and 2010, working in unison with ground-based towers.

MSV-1 and MSV-2 will replace and expand upon the current MSAT satellite system operated by MSV and MSV Canada.

Scheduled for delivery in 2007, TerreStar-1 will carry an 18-meter reflector (above) provided by Harris. The TerreStar satellite will be capable of generating hundreds of spot beams covering the Continental U.S., Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

An FCC decision allowed TerreStar Networks and other satellite phone operators, to incorporate an ATC (terrestrial repeater) for next-generation, 2-GHz mobile voice and data communications. SkyTerra and Mobile Satellite Venture are now consolidating the ownership and control of MSV.

TerreStar is developing bridging technology to provide interoperability across legacy Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems and cellular, as well as TerreStar’s core IP-enabled wireless network.

TerreStar is one solution for a national interoperable communications system. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that what you need in a major emergency is a satphone. Terrestar/MSV will have the smallest, cheapest and most flexible since it can use repeaters.

Providing first responders with a Treo Smartphone embedded with cellular/satphone connectivity and push-to-talk is apparently not a technical problem — it’s a political issue. Cellcos don’t want to give up their terrestrial backhaul or cooperate with satphone providers who got their repeater frequencies “free”.

Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .