MILITARY SATELLITE LAUNCHES HEAT UP

From targeting data to maintenance orders, Predator drone pictures to e-mail to the kids, the military sends almost every scrap of information it has through wireless networks. And that means the armed forces have a Homer Simpson-esque appetite for bandwidth.So it's no surprise that the U.S. Air Force is set to launch its second communications satellite in a month. On March 10, a Delta 4 rocket took up a DSCS3-A3 satellite, a space-borne relay communicating about as fast as the modem in your Apple II did back in the 80's. On Sunday, a Titan IVB will launch from Cape Canaveral, with a Milstar II satellite on board. It talks a bit faster, at 1.5 megabits per second.Michael Kucharek, with Air Force Space Command, insists that the flurry of take-offs -- which includes launches of GPS satellites in late January and late March -- is "not a surge because of what's going on in the Persian Gulf."The launches have been planned for two years, he asserts. But the Columbia Shuttle disaster screwed up the schedule temporarily.Once the satellites are in space, it can take anywhere from "a few weeks to a few months" to get them operational; testing needs to be done first to make sure the satellites can talk ground stations, and each other.

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