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First Mobile User Objective System Sat Begins Ops

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This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The first of the U.S. Navy's next-generation mobile, narrowband communications satellites has been turned over for operational use following in-orbit testing, though not all capabilities will be usable for months to come.

Though the Lockheed Martin Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite, launched Feb. 24, carries a new, 3G-like capability for soldiers, the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) payload is not in a fully operational design.

The first satellite is carrying an engineering version of this payload until the second satellite, which is slated to launch in July, completes its in-orbit checkout and ground systems are validated. Eventually, full capability will be added through software upgrades. The WCDMA payload is designed to provide video, data and voice services to soldiers similar to those provided for commercial cellular phones.

Today's narrowband system forces soldiers to be stationary to acquire a signal; MUOS is designed to allow soldiers to move around the battlefield and have access to more than 10 times the data rates offered today.

Lockheed Martin won the MUOS development contract in 2004 worth up to $3.3 billion. The program has slipped at least two years.

The MUOS design includes the new WCDMA payload as well as a Boeing's legacy UHF payload flying on the existing Ultra High-Frequency Follow-On satellites. Originally, the new WCDMA payload was designed to work with a family of radios called the Joint Tactical Radio System; but major pieces of that effort have been punted, reduced in scope or terminated. So some industry officials suggest the value that was to be gained by adding the new payload has been overtaken by events both on the satellite and terminal side of the program.

Full operational capability for MUOS is slated for 2015. The constellation is planned to include four operational spacecraft and one on-orbit spare. Each satellite operates from geosynchronous orbit.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

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