The launch marked two milestones for the venerable Atlas rocket, making the 29th flight of the Atlas 5 version. Checking in at a hefty 7.5 tons, MUOS-1 was the heaviest payload ever deployed by an Atlas. Also, this launch marked the 200th mission for the Centaur upper stage, originally developed in the early 1960's to support the launch of NASA's largest spacecraft and interplanetary missions at the time.
MUOS-1 is the first of five Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft being built by Lockheed Martin under a $5.3 billion Navy contract. Likened to a cell phone tower in the sky, the spacecraft are designed with 3G cellular telephone technology to enable U.S. ships, aircraft and troops on the battlefield to communicate around the clock.
The MUOS is a narrowband Military Satellite Communications system that supports a worldwide network of joint mobile and fixed-site terminal users in the Ultra High Frequency band. The system is comprised of a constellation of four operational geosynchronous satellites, one on-orbit spare satellite, and a ground control and network management system.
(Photo Credit: An Atlas 5 rocket lifts off with MUOS-1. Credit: NASATech.net)
"The new MUOS constellation will bring a robust 'communications on the move' capability to the mobile warfighter," said Brig. Gen. Anthony Cotton, 45th Space Wing commander. "The entire government and contractor team worked together flawlessly to make this launch a success."
The MUOS will provide greater than 10 times the system capacity of the U.S. Navy's current UHF Follow-On constellation.
Each of the satellites is equipped with two mesh reflectors, made by Melbourne-based Harris Corp. Each antenna spans 94 feet, or about the same length as an NBA basketball court.
The MUOS system represents a leap forward in mobile military communications capability. Currently, the military relies on the Ultra High Frequency Follow-On (UFO) spacecraft, which require 20-pound backpacks and antennas that take 10 minutes to set up and tear down. Only "stop-and-talk" capability exists, and personnel must be in line of sight with the UFO spacecraft.
MUOS will provide the mobile warfighter with point-to-point and netted communications services with a secure "comm on the move" capability on a 24x7 basis. Using recent commercial advances in cellular and satellite technology, the system will deliver data rates of up to 384 kbps "on the move" and offer priority-based access to voice, data, and video, on demand.
Once MUOS is fully deployed, troops will be able to communicate in any weather, and in even the most difficult environments, such as heavy-wooded regions covered with thick forest canopies or urban canyons, as well as over the horizon.
"One of the strengths of the MUOS system is that it will be able to operate in all anticipated environments," said Capt. Paul Ghyzel, the Navy's MUOS program manager.
As deployment of the MUOS system continues, the UHF constellation is on-station 24/7 supporting the warfighter. However, as the current UHF constellation approaches its end of life and to satisfy the increased warfighter demand for satellite communication capability, the Navy has developed several mitigation activities to optimize UHF capacity in the event of a loss of an on-orbit satellite. As a result, today's UHF constellation provides the warfighter approximately 111 more channels worldwide than requirements mandate. This additional 111 more channels is equivalent to three UFO satellites and is 39 percent more than the required number of worldwide channels.
(Photo Credit: The Atlas 5 climbs skyward to begin a mission to deploy the MUOS-1 satellite. Credit: Mike Killian)
This was the second launch on the Eastern Range this year, with nine more launches scheduled.
"The 45th Space Wing and Eastern Range continue to be busy with these important launches, and we are proud of this vital role in our nation's defense."
(Zero-G News / The Spacearium)