The race for space

Steve LeSueur

"You can't do anything these days without a space connection," Air Force Gen. Lance Lord told industry executives at the Military Communications Conference 2004 this month. "If you're not in space, you're not in the race."

Lord, who heads the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, said U.S. dominance in space communications systems gives the military an "asymmetrical advantage" over its opponents. That advantage is being put to use in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the ongoing conflicts have underscored the need for rapid, high-speed information exchange.

The military's push for broadband satellite capabilities is big business. One industry official predicts that the government market for space-based systems will grow from $7.5 billion to $17 billion during the next ten years.

A major piece of that business will be the Transformational Satellites program, an Air Force effort to build a constellation of six satellites that can deliver the equivalent of fast cable modem service to troops deployed around the globe. The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are teamed with the top industry players as they compete for this $18 billion contract. Freelance writer James Schultz has the details in our front page story.

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