The Boeing 777X jet and partially-3D printed GE9X engine. Photo via Boeing
Improving US defense coordination
Since being contracted to do so in 2019, Boeing has been working flat-out to develop the US Space Force’s latest WGS system, the eleventh in a constellation designed to connect US, Canadian and Australian forces. Built to replace the older Defence Satellite Communications System setup, which is still used for military coordination, WGS devices are generally said to enable a much higher throughput.
Now, as part of its program, Boeing says it has managed to integrate some of the advances made via its 702X satellite R&D, to take these benefits to the next level. Built around the same phased array technology, the WGS-11+ is set to be capable of generating hundreds of electronically-steered beams at the same time, providing users with more than twice the mission capacity of existing WGS satellites.
What’s more, just like the 720X, each individual beam can be shaped and therefore tailored to the needs of a specific operation, meaning that US Space Force adopters stand to gain from improved mission flexibility and responsiveness, while the WGS-11+ can also use dual polarization to narrow beam widths as a means of protecting against interference.
To bring this vision for a revised satellite to life, Boeing met with the US Space Force late last year, at which point they completed a critical design review before entering its production phase. It was at this point that Boeing committed to using advanced manufacturing methods such as 3D printing in the system’s build, in a way that could yield significant cost and lead time benefits, while boosting its performance.
In fact, by serially additive manufacturing WGS-11+ parts in their thousands, in a move that’s reported to be a ten-fold increase on its previous satellites, the firm anticipates being able to reduce what’s usually a 7-10 year waiting time for large spacecraft down to just 5 years, and the finished system has now been penciled in for delivery in 2024.
“We’re printing more than a thousand parts for WGS-11+, giving us the capability to introduce customization in a way that improves system performance, without requiring extensive integration times or customized tooling,” adds Troy Dawson, Boeing’s VP of Government Satellite Systems. “We understand how important speed is to the mission. That production speed translates to effectiveness against threats.”