By Marina Malenic

Boeing [BA] said last week the Air Force has authorized $182 million for the company to begin work on the seventh Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite, which is being procured under a new WGS Block II follow-on contract.

The contract includes options for five more spacecraft, ultimately bringing the total constellation to 12 if all are exercised.

WGS is intended as a replacement for the legacy Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS). Each WGS spacecraft has 10 times the capacity of a single DSCS satellite.

“In a time of budgetary pressures, the award of this contract signifies the high-priority need of U.S. warfighters around the world for responsive and robust wideband communications,” Air Force Col. Don Robbins, WGS Group Commander, said in statement.

The three on-orbit WGS satellites, which are operating over the Middle East, Pacific and Atlantic regions, are meeting or exceeding mission requirements, according to Robbins.

Boeing is now building three more satellites, scheduled to launch in 2012 and 2013. This first award under the Block II follow-on covers non-recurring start-up activities and advance procurement of long-lead parts. Australia is financing one of the satellites.

The order for WGS-7 comes nearly three years after the Pentagon’s December 2007 order for WGS-6. The Pentagon earlier this year had to recertify the program when unit costs increased by 27.2 percent and breached a congressional cost-growth cap. The cost increase was the result of two separate multi-year production breaks and the Defense Department’s decision to buy two extra satellites (Defense Daily, June 3).

WGS communications payloads provide reconfigurable coverage areas and the ability to connect X-band and Ka-band users anywhere within the satellite’s field of view through an onboard digital channelizer–features not available on any other Defense Department communications satellite.