Amy Butler reports in today's Aerospace Daily & Defense Report:
The U.S. Navy’s only major satellite program, which is designed to provide unprecedented Ultra-High Frequency satellite communications to military personnel around the globe, has so far slipped through the round of fiscal 2013 budget cuts unscathed despite some development shortcomings.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Jan 26 that he was terminating the Air Force’s Defense Weather Satellite System because it was “premature to need.”
But there was no mention of the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) as a candidate for a cut despite problems with prime contractor Lockheed Martin in developing a new communications payload that will provide services for soldiers akin to those offered through cellular networks.
Navy officials say that aside from a short round of testing, the new payload will not be operational upon launch, which is slated on an Atlas V Feb. 16 from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. This new Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) payload flying on MUOS-1 will be an “engineering version of the waveform,” says Steven Davis, a spokesman for the Naval Warfare Systems Command. Though eventually upgradable by way of software uploads, it will not be a fully production-ready design.
“The payload will also undergo a limited checkout but will not be made operational until the MUOS ground system is completely deployed and the second MUOS satellite completes its in-orbit checkout,” according to Davis.
MUOS-2 is slated to launch July 2013, and the ground infrastructure is being deployed in phases, he says. A Hawaiian ground station required for the MUOS-1 launch is “fully operational” and additional infrastructure around the globe is being added in time for the second satellite launch.
“Some portions of the ground deployment cannot be completed until after the first spacecraft is launched, so as the launch date for MUOS-1 has changed over the life of the program, so has the schedule for some portions of the ground deployment,” Davis notes. Though this sequence of events has always been planned, the slip in developing MUOS-1 that is impacting the larger plan was not.
“Full checkout of the WCDMA payload will be completed following the launch of the second MUOS satellite, at which time the final version of the waveform is expected to be available and implemented in a MUOS terminal,” Davis says.
In 2004 Lockheed won a contract worth up to $3.3 billion to develop the MUOS satellite, which (like the Air Force’s once-troubled Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Space-Based Infrared System satellites) is based on the A2100 bus. The program is at least two years behind schedule, but Davis says program officials are confident they will provide much-needed service through MUOS.
MUOS is designed to provide voice, data and video communications for military users worldwide; its frequency is well suited to support so-called disadvantaged users operating in jungles or mountainous terrain.
The MUOS design calls for a new WCDMA payload as well as a legacy Boeing UHF payload flying on the existing Ultra High-Frequency Follow-On satellites in orbit. Originally, the new WCDMA payload was designed to work with a family of radios called the Joint Tactical Radio System; but major pieces of this effort have been punted, reduced in scope or terminated. So industry officials suggest the value that was intended to be gained by adding the new payload has become overcome by events both on the satellite and terminal side of the program.
Critics of the Navy’s execution of MUOS suggest it is a multi-billion boondoggle and question why it has not been terminated as the Pentagon searches for reductions in line with the Budget Control Act, the August 2011 deficit reduction law.