Navy’s New Joint Tactical Communications Satellite Arrives at Alaska Launch Pad


The Navy’s new joint tactical communications satellite arrived at Alaska’s Kodiak Launch Complex, March 1 and is currently undergoing final preparations for its scheduled spring liftoff.

Funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Tactical Microsatellite (TacSat)-4 is smaller in size, lower in cost and relatively quicker to launch than a traditional system. TacSat-4 is designed to augment traditional satellite communications, supplying 10 legacy ultra-high-frequency channels. It can provide two hours of coverage up to three times per day and support multiple theaters worldwide in a 24-hour period.

The fourth-generation microsatellite is expected to be launched in May or June. Following that milestone, the initial transmission of data will be available approximately 30 days later.

Additionally, TacSat-4 enables “comms on the move”, said Fred Hellrich, an ONR senior scientist. “That is a unique feature of this system – no other DOD satellite system can do it currently.”

Unlike traditional satellites that require antennae to be set up in the field for data transmission, TacSat-4 allows warfighters to use a regular handheld radio for communications on the move. TacSat-4 has also been developed to operate more economically than traditional satellites by using high-quality components designed to last at least six months to one year. It is also changing the cost to build systems and thus the number of launches per year.

The satellite will carry an ONR-sponsored and Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)-developed payload. Those components will be carried on a bus built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office funded TacSat-4’s launch aboard a Minotaur IV rocket built by Orbital Sciences. The collaboration among government, industry and academia was a significant step in TacSat-4’s success.

The system features a Virtual Mission Operations Center (VMOC) developed by NRL under ONR’s Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) program. VMOC will manage payload tasking to provide communications management designees the ability to request satellite communications via DOD’s classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network and to provide dynamic channel assignments for flexible theater support.

TacSat is one of the original four proposed efforts initiated by ONR’s INP program, which investigates cutting-edge technologies with the potential to irrecoverably change naval operations.

TacSat was inspired by Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, the former director of the Office of Force Transformation, who wanted a simplified satellite that could be built and launched quicker than traditional ones.

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.

by Katherine H. Crawfor(navy)


Source: navy,March 16, 2011;