An Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral early Wednesday to put a brand new communications satellite into orbit for the U.S. Navy. The huge rocket was manufactured and launched by the new United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
The payload of the Atlas 5 was the fourth satellite in the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) communications network, which will provide provide 3G-cellular technology to land vehicles, ships, submarines, aircraft and troops on missions all across the globe.
Details on U.S. Navy’s new MUOS communication system
“MUOS works like a smartphone network in space, vastly improving secure satellite communications for mobile users,” Paul Benishek, deputy director of the Navy’s Communications Satellite Program Office, commented during the launch webcast Wednesday morning.
The MUOS satellites provide secure voice conversations, networked conference calls and data relay services, including video, across the globe. The satellites work like giant space cell phone towers, and have four ground stations for switching and routing.
The new satellite-based network will eventually replace the Navy’s Ultra High Frequency Follow-On satellite system abd offer 16 times more capacity than the current system, according to the Navy.
The satellite will deployed in orbit just a few hours after liftoff, and will be functional shortly thereafter. It is provided with two mesh antenna reflectors manufactured by Harris Corp., the larger of which open to a 46-foot diameter.
The now $7.6 billion MUOS program offers a huge upgrade in capacity over the aging communications system, but the new MUOS system is currently more than 18 months behind schedule.
That said, Lockheed Martin-built satellite launched Wednesday is the second device to be lofted into orbit this year, after a successful January mission that put the a third MUOS satellite into orbit.
The satellite launched today finalizes the MUOS operational system. However, the navy has already announced that a fifth spacecraft launch is planned for in the summer of 2016 to provide a back up MUOS satellite.