By Marina Malenic

The Air Force is scheduled to launch a third Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) communications satellite tomorrow morning, the service said yesterday.

WGS 3 is the final Block I satellite of the constellation and will serve U.S. forces in Europe and Africa. WGS 1 is on orbit serving U.S. Pacific Command, while WGS 2 serves Central Command, according to Col. Bill Harding, vice commander of the military satellite communications systems wing at Space and Missiles Systems Center in Los Angeles.

Harding told reporters last week that WGS 1 is providing Global Broadcast System services, which he compared to DIRECTV, to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the system is used to send video from Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles feeds.

“There is high demand for video from UAVs out there right now,” he said.

WGS satellites will eventually replace the Pentagon’s aging Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS). The new system is designed for X- and Ka-band communications and allows users of one band to talk with users of the other. Each WGS satellite can provide 10 times the bandwidth provided by a DSCS satellite, Harding said.

Eight DSCS satellites remain operational, according to Harding, while six of the oldest spacecraft have been placed in disposal orbits.

The WGS constellation is expected to eventually be made up of five satellites. The Block II satellites are being produced at Boeing‘s [BA] manufacturing facility in El Segundo, Calif., the company’s WGS program manager told reporters.

WGS 3 will initially go on orbit in a test position, according to Harding, allowing Boeing to conduct tests on the spacecraft for three weeks. It will take about a month to shift the satellite into operational orbit, he added. The satellite is expected to be fully operational in February.

The spacecraft will be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.