Space: December 13, 2003


  Manufacturing problems encountered in building the first three Wideband Gapfiller 702 Satellites (WGS) have caused a 14-month delay in meeting the US Air Forces timetable for providing enhanced communications and imagery capabilities for ongoing and future US combat operations. The initial three-satellite constellation is now not expected to be in orbit until early 2007, with the first satellite not expected to launch until February 2005. It had been scheduled for launch in June of 2004. 

Each satellite is designed to provide many times the transmission capability of existing military battlefield communications systems, and will greatly enhance available transmission bandwidth, which is especially important for carrying high-density signals such as those used for real-time imagery. 

WGS is to complement the DSCS III Service Life Enhancement Program (SLEP) and GBS payloads, and offset the eventual decline in DSCS III capability (the DSCS III was the third generation of general-purpose military communication satellites, first launched in 1982, and now nearing the end of its design life. DSCS III satellites are also designed to support all three military services. WGS will offer 4.875 GHz of instantaneous switchable bandwidth, thus supplying more than 10 times the capacity of a DSCS III Service Life Enhancement Program (SLEP) satellite. WGS is designed to enhance wideband services until the advent of the planned Objective X/Ka wideband system or Advanced Wideband System (AWS) since merged with Transformational Communications System (TCS) -- in 2008 or 2009. 

The delays are the result of unforeseen problems due to the complexity and innovative nature of the spacecraft payloads. The three model 702 satellites are the first three of up to six spacecraft in the WGS program.  Each satellite will have a 14-year design life.

Neither the manufacturer nor the Air Force is accepting the blame for the delays in this $ 660 million, fixed price contract. As written, the manufacturer (Boeing) has to swallow any contract cost overruns. In July, Boeing reported a $265 million second-quarter loss at Boeing Satellite Systems, due in part to problems with the WGS program. Total potential contract value of the system is $ 1.3 billion. K.B. Sherman




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