Starting back in the high-tension days of the Cold War, the U.S. Department of Defense realized the vital necessity of having around-the-clock protected communications in the north polar Arctic region. The need for this capability became even more acute after the Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) program was restructured in 1992 into the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program. Under the restructuring, the two originally planned polar satellites were dropped. Then, the production of the interim payloads to cover the gap created by the MILSATCOM restructuring was delayed. However, now that those satellites have finally been built, attention has shifted to the Enhanced Polar System (EPS) program to provide a next-generation, protected, extremely high-frequency (EHF) satellite communications capability (especially for submarines) in the Arctic.
There were some who had feared that because the EPS was so closely related to the canceled TSAT effort, it would suffer collateral damage. The EPS program, however, continues to be funded by the DoD, which reports that the program is making progress. Additionally, the EPS program fits the bill of the smaller, less ambitious programs the DoD currently favors.
The EPS program will continue to face a tight budget environment and technological challenges. But working in the program’s favor is the growing trend in the satellite industry of hosting payloads such as EPS on satellite platforms, which has proven to be much cheaper than building dedicated satellites.
At this time, the first EPS payload is forecast for launch in 2016, and the second in 2017.
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