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US Air Force Launches Advanced Military Communications Satellite

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket launches the new Wideband Global SATCOM 7 satellite into orbit for the U.S. military on July 23, 2015 during an evening launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket launches the new Wideband Global SATCOM 7 satellite into orbit for the U.S. military on July 23, 2015 during an evening launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

The U.S. Air Force launched an advanced military communications satellite late Thursday (July 24), lighting up the evening sky as it became the latest addition to a growing milsat constellation supporting American military forces from orbit.

The $445 million Wideband Global SATCOM 7 (WGS-7) satellite blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:07 p.m. EDT (0007 July 25 GMT), riding a Delta IV rocket provided by the launch provider United Launch Alliance. This is the seventh WGS satellite launched by the U.S. Air Force since 2007. The constellation of spacecraft provides communications capabilities to U.S. military forces.

Today's launch marked the first use of the new RS-68A main engine in the Delta IV launch vehicle, according to Spaceflight Now. The engine upgrade is a step toward standardizing the engines for all Delta IV vehicle configurations, Spaceflight Now reported.

The U.S. military's Wideband Global SATCOM 7 satellite launches into orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket on July 23, 2015 during an evening launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

The Air Force's seventh Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite undergoes encapsulation inside a Delta IV 5-meter payload fairing. Launch is set for July 23, 2015, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

The launch from Space Launch Complex-37 was originally scheduled for Wednesday (July 22) but was canceled due to the weather. The launch vehicle was a Delta IV Medium-Plus rocket in a 5-4 configuration, which means the main rocket body as a five-meter (16.4 feet) payload fairing and four strap-on rocket motors.

Built by Boeing, the WGS satellites are "the Department of Defense's highest-capacity communication satellites," according to a fact sheet published by the Los Angeles Air Force Base. Three more WGS satellites are scheduled to launch by 2018, completing a 10-satellite constellation, Robert Tarleton, military satellite communication director at the Space and Missions System Center (SMC), said in a teleconference July 17.

The WGS constellation "provides wideband communications to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and, of course, several international partners through broadcast, multicast and point-to-point connections anytime, anywhere around the world," Tarleton said.

"One of the unique features of WGS is that it can simultaneously support X and Ka-band communications and seamlessly connect across those bands," Tarleton noted (X and Ka-bands are communications frequencies). The communication system is also used "for tactical communications and performing numerous military operations, including humanitarian and aid missions when necessary," he added.

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Calla Cofield
Calla Cofield joined the crew of Space.com in October, 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world. She'd really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Prior to joining Space.com Calla worked as a freelance science writer. Her work has appeared in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter

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