FAA taps COMSAT for satellite comm

The Federal Aviation Administration late last month selected COMSAT Corp.'s Mobile Communications division to provide satellite communication services as part of the agency's Global Positioning System (GPS)-based navigation programs.

Under the communications contract - worth up to $100 million over the five-year base and five option years - COMSAT Bethesda Md. will provide the FAA with access to leased channels on Inmarsat-3 satellites covering the western Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

These services will support the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) a $475 million program now under development that will provide aircraft with access to highly accurate positioning information by refining existing GPS signals. COMSAT will provide the links between aircraft and the ground stations that augment the GPS signals.

This contract "gives us the communications links we need to really start testing [the WAAS concept] " an FAA spokesman said.

COMSAT already provides similar relay services in a number of industries including maritime transportation and commercial airline services said David Farmer director of marketing communications for COMSAT. For example a number of airlines use COMSAT's satellite links to provide telephone fax and data communications for passengers on international flights Farmer said.

The contract also supports the National Satellite Test Bed a similar prototype GPS-based navigation system being developed at the FAA's Atlantic City N.J.-based research center. NSTB not intended to be a full operational system will be used as a way to test out various elements or concepts being built into WAAS.

COMSAT also will build "uplink" ground stations for transmitting signals as part of WAAS and NSTB the FAA said. This component of the contract includes providing uplinks for the FAA's Functional Verification System which the agency describes as a "mini-WAAS" that will be used to test the navigation system before it goes operational. COMSAT Mobile Communications will work with another COMSAT division to build the ground stations Farmer said.

The FAA had intended to buy communications services under its WAAS pact which was awarded to Wilcox Electric in 1995. But the agency decided to break out the satellite comm services from the contract as part of a larger restructuring in the spring of 1996 when it canceled the Wilcox contract and tapped Hughes Aircraft as its prime contractor.

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