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New Navy satellite spreads wings, antennas in orbit

Posted: August 2, 2013

The massive U.S. Navy communications satellite launched from Cape Canaveral two weeks ago has completed prescribed maneuvers to reach geosynchronous orbit and successfully unfurled its umbrella-like antenna reflectors.

An artist's concept of MUOS. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Checkouts of the spacecraft that are expected to last several months are getting underway high above the Pacific Ocean testing location before the bird will be declared ready for service.

The craft will be capable of covering nearly a third of the planet to provide mobile communications to U.S. warfighters on the move.

"Currently, all systems are working normally," said Steven A. Davis of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

The Mobile User Objective System satellite No. 2 was lofted into space July 19 by the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, achieving a highly elliptical preliminary orbit as planned.

From there, the Lockheed Martin-built satellite performed a series of 7 engine firings to circularize the orbit and reduce its orbital tilt closer to the equator. The burns, which ranged from 23 to 52 minutes in length, put the spacecraft into the proper geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles up.

The orbit was reached on July 31, and the following 36 hours saw the spacecraft achieve its "flight configuration" by executing critical deployments of the power-generating solar wings that now stretch 94 feet tip-to-tip and two gold mesh, umbrella-like antenna reflectors.

The antennas provide the same type of Ulta High Frequency communications like previous Navy spacecraft and the other offers modernized capabilities that the new MUOS system will create.

Coverage to legacy users will transmit through a 17.7-foot-diameter reflector on the bottom of the craft and the advanced, multi-beam features of MUOS to significantly increase the transmission capacity over the Navy's previous satellites will use a large 46-foot reflector atop MUOS.

All U.S. military forces rely upon Navy satellites for Ultra High Frequency narrowband communications. UHF offers small, portable units that forces can carry into battle and the frequency enables communications in urban canyons and mountainous terrain, penetrating foliage and transmitting through bad weather.

Each MUOS satellite has 16 times the capacity of the aging UHF satellite constellation.

What's more, MUOS also creates a new "rugged smartphone" network to provide 3G-like cellular telephone and data services across the globe when the constellation is fully launched in the next couple of years.

Now begins several months of satellite system and payload testing before builder Lockheed Martin hands over the MUOS 2 craft to the government for additional checks in advance of setting it operational in early 2014.