MUOS satellite network could go online by spring

MUOS satellite

A rendition of a MUOS, with a mesh reflector that helps boost its bandwidth.

The Navy this week accepted the fourth in a series of mobile communications satellites designed to provide near-global network coverage, contractor Lockheed Martin said Thursday.

The fourth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite was launched on Sept. 2 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard an Atlas V rocket. On-orbit testing was completed on Nov. 30, the company said. The next step involves moving the MUOS-4 to its operational slot in the communication satellite constellation next spring. An on-orbit spare is scheduled for launch some time next year, Lockheed Martin added.

Ten days after its September launch, MUOS-4 executed a series of seven burns to move from its transfer orbit to a geosynchronous orbit over the Pacific Ocean. The burns maneuvered the satellite to its test slot roughly 22,000 miles above Earth.

At least four MUOS satellites are required to provide mobile forces with near-global coverage. Once the constellation is operational, forces equipped with MUOS terminals would have voice and data communications along with the ability to share imagery in real time.

The contractor also claims MUOS can provide the first polar communications capability from geosynchronous orbit.

The space network, with the satellites helped by mesh reflectors, also is expected to provide up to 16 times the communications capacity of current ultrahigh frequency communications satellites, which will eventually be replaced. "The legacy satellite communication system allowed users to 'talk' as long as they were within the same satellite footprint," said Navy Capt. Joe Kan, program manager for the Communications Satellite Program Office. "MUOS allows troops all over the world to talk, text and share mission data seamlessly without having to worry about where they are in relation to a satellite."

Lockheed Martin said it expects more than 55,000 radio terminals already in the field to be upgraded for compatibility with MUOS. Most will require only a software upgrade, the company said.

While the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command oversees the MUOS program, SPAWAR officials said users would include ground forces down to the level of individual soldiers as well as U.S. Special Forces.

The IP-based MUOS constellation also allows secure access to classified networks that enable tactical users to exchange sensitive situational awareness and targeting data, program officials said.

Along with greater capacity, the MUOS wideband CDMA (code division, multiple access) waveform is able to penetrate foliage and is designed to provide a stronger signal via prioritization and localized beam power control, Lockheed Martin said.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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