In an attempt to prevent a real life Ice Station Zebra incident, the U.S. DoD has pumped money and technology into the Enhanced Polar System (EPS). The system’s mission – to provide around-the-clock protected communications in the polar north – is considered vital by the DoD.
The need for the capability became even more acute after the restructuring of the MILSATCOM program in 1992. Under the restructuring, original plans for two polar satellites were scrapped. Next, delays occurred in production of interim payloads to cover the satellite gap created by the restructuring. However, now that those satellites have been built, attention has turned to the Enhanced Polar System program. The DoD could deploy the two already-built EHF payloads to support the EPS program.
Some had feared that because the EPS was so closely related to the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program, the cancellation of TSAT would negatively affect the EPS program; but the EPS program continues to be funded by the DoD, which reports that the program has made progress. Additionally, the EPS program fits the profile of smaller, less ambitious programs currently favored by the DoD.
The EPS program will continue to face a tight budget environment, in addition to technological challenges. But working in the program’s favor is the growing trend in the satellite industry to host payloads such as EPS on satellite platforms serving other purposes. This approach has proven to be much cheaper than building dedicated satellites.
Full operational capability of the EPS is expected by the end of 2018.
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