The Air Force is set to launch its sixth Wideband Global Satcom satellite (WGS-6) tonight between 8:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The launch will take place upon one of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta IV rockets, the fourth launch for a WGS satellite on a ULA launch vehicle. As of press time yesterday, ULA forecast an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. Boeing [BA] is the prime contractor for WGS.

Widband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites. Photo: Air Force.

The Air Force’s partnership with the Australian Defense Force is unique to this launch, according to Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (AFSMC). Australia in November 2007 signed a bilateral memo of understanding (MOU) with the United States to join the WGS program and provide funding for the procurement, sustainment and launch costs associated with the sixth WGS satellite, in return for assured bandwidth across WGS satellites one through six.

Also unique to tonight’s potential launch is the small time frame since WGS-5 was launched May 24. Walt Lauderdale, mission director for the WGS-6 launch, said in a recent teleconference the three month gap between launches is the closest spacing between WGS launches to date.

The WGS-5 launch in May suffered many delays before its eventual May 24 launch, including a problem due to an issue associated with a ground support system helium pressurization line (Defense Daily, May 24). ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said yesterday the flex hose that failed prior to the WGS-5 launch was replaced along with a companion hose that performed a similar function. Rye said after the successful launch, a preventative inspection and maintenance program was implemented to prevent recurrence of the specific issue.

The WGS-6 space vehicle and its ground terminals can operate in X- and Ka-band frequencies and coverage areas can be shaped to meet users’ needs. As the Defense Department’s highest-capacity satellite communications system, according to Boeing, each satellite can route 2.1 to 3.6 gigabits (Gbps) of data, providing more than 10 times the communications capability of the predecessor Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) III satellite.

ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin [LMT].