The Air Force says the first of its Boeing [BA]-built Wideband Global Satellite Communications (WGS) spacecraft was successfully launched into orbit recently, beginning the process of placing a modern constellation in space by early next decade to replace the service’s aging on-orbit communications infrastructure.

Following a series of orbital maneuvers and on-orbit testing, the satellite is expected to begin service in early 2008, Boeing said yesterday. This first WGS spacecraft, designated SV-1, will provide a 10-fold increase in telecommunications capacity over the Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) satellite that it will replace, according to the company.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle fired at 8:22 EDT on Oct. 10 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., carried the WGS satellite into orbit, according to the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the Air Force’s space acquisition arm. The ULA is the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin [LMT].

“I’m extremely pleased with today’s successful launch and the superb performance of the entire team that made it happen,” said Col. Donald Robbins, commander of SMC’s Wideband Satellite Communications Group on the day of the mission. “Putting up the very first WGS satellite is monumental for both, the [Military Satellite Communications] Systems Wing, Space and Missiles Systems Center, and for the Air Force. This launch campaign presented unique challenges that were overcome with a lot of hard work, attention to detail, and a tremendous team effort between our WGS customer, the Boeing Company, the 45th Space Wing, the Aerospace Corporation, and the Launch and Range Systems Wing. I am very proud of the team and its achievement, which extends the string of successful launches by the Space and Missile Systems Center to 52.”

Boeing said the flight of the host rocket was nominal and the first signals from the satellite were picked up by a ground station in Australia 47 minutes after the launch.

“Boeing controllers in El Segundo, Calif., confirmed that the satellite is healthy,” the company said Oct. 11.

“This successful launch and spacecraft acquisition represents the culmination of tremendous teamwork by our U.S. Air Force customer, the Aerospace Corporation and the Boeing Company,” Howard Chambers, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, said in the company’s statement. “The military’s demand for communications capabilities is increasing exponentially, and this WGS satellite, along with the others in the series, will provide critical communications services to the warfighters who will depend on its services.”

The Air Force plans to procure five WGS satellites (Defense Daily, Oct. 3). They will at first augment and then eventually succeed the DSCS constellation, which has been the backbone of the U.S. military’s on-orbit communications capabilities over the past two decades. They will also provide the Global Broadcast Service function currently delivered by Navy Ultra High Frequency Follow-On satellites, according to Boeing. Further, they will reduce the U.S. government’s reliance on commercial satellite communications services, the company said.

Boeing is under contract to build three WGS Block I satellites: SV-1, SV-2 and SV-3. SV-2 and SV-3 are scheduled for launch next year.

The company is also under contract to build two more advanced WGS Block II satellites, SV-4 and SV-5, for launch early next decade (Defense Daily, Nov. 3, 2006).

The WGS satellites will operate both in X-band and Ka-band frequencies. They will have features not resident on any other existing military satellite communications system, such as 18 reconfigurable coverage areas and the ability to broadcast or multicast transmissions into the various coverage areas and connect users between any and all coverage areas even when operating on different frequency bands, Boeing said.