FAA to add third WAAS satellite

 - January 22, 2008, 6:13 AM

The FAA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin last month that will add a third leased geostationary satellite to the two existing satellites used for the wide-area augmentation system (WAAS). Acquisition of a third satellite follows a recommendation from an independent review board study that concluded it was too risky to depend on only two satellites for the availability of the WAAS signal.

This third geostationary satellite is needed to ensure that a single geostationary failure does not cause large-scale outages of service over the U.S. With the augmented GPS navigation signal, WAAS enables access to low-altitude en route airspace without a required backup and will eventually allow vertically guided approaches to many airports around the country.

Although the initial contract is worth $34 million, including $12 million to start the work, the total contract value could amount to $597 million if additional satellite services are ordered. The FAA said this was a competitive procurement that ultimately led to a team that consists of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing. The initial contract permits Lockheed to proceed with the design and development of the ground stations.

The new contract provides for a 24-month development of ground stations, with the flexibility to lease up to three satellite communication services, which will allow the FAA to procure additional leased services to take into account changes in the constellation due to satellite relocations, satellite failure, unplanned outages and maintaining geostationary diversity and security.

The FAA is currently conducting WAAS operational testing, evaluation and certification for IFR navigation in preparation for commissioning later this year. It plans to have the first additional communication link operating on a geostationary satellite by 2006.

The FAA now leases communication transponders on two Inmarsat-III satellites, providing coverage over the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. The additional geostationary satellite communication service increases the availability of the WAAS signal-in-space and makes the system more reliable. This means that pilots using the WAAS will have less chance of losing the signal during critical flight operations.

The new satellite will also have a new, second-frequency capability, which is part of a long-term effort to provide GPS navigation information over two protected frequencies, increasing the navigation capabilities substantially and reducing the threat of intentional and accidental interference. Eventually, all GPS and WAAS satellites will have two-frequency capabilities.