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AMERICOM makes connections

May 13, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

If a satellite connection needs to be made between the military overseas and the United States or for emergency responders handling a disaster, chances are AMERICOM Government Services will provide it.

At its Hagerstown office, a small staff of engineers has custom designed such satellite communication solutions for its clients, which include Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Edward Mikus, vice president of engineering services.

"Knowing that somebody as in (Hurricane) Katrina or the military in Iraq has a need for communication and being able to provide a solution for their need ... It's very satisfying," Mikus said.

AMERICOM Government Services was recognized at the Washington County Business Awards in February with an Innovation award for its work providing satellite connections for the Army.

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Fifteen spacecraft owned by AMERICOM, which is AMERICOM Government Services' parent company, orbit the Earth above the equator and send and receive signals to and from its antennae across the globe.

Monica Morgan, AMERICOM vice president of corporate communications, gave an example of how the group of engineers in Hagerstown develops solutions: Troops overseas who had the equipment to watch television, but needed a means to get American programming on its television sets, were connected to American pop culture by AMERICOM's satellites.

"We provide the bandwidth," Mikus said.

Every image from space of the Earth that has been broadcast through NASA for about the past 20 years "has come from all of our satellites," Morgan said, adding that images of shuttle launches also are made from the company's satellites through NASA.

The U.S. Department of Defense also is one of AMERICOM Government Services' biggest clients. There are two conference rooms in the building that are specially designed to protect against spying during top secret meetings or telephone calls, Mikus said.

SmartPoint, an antenna that AMERICOM Government Services developed for the Army and completed last year, is an antenna that automatically aligns with its satellite and is easier for troops to move and dismantle than previous antennae, Mikus said.

SmartPoints have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S., he said.

The company also has made flat antennae that are wind-resistant for military Humvees.

REDiSat, an emergency disaster relief antenna, was developed for situations in which power and other utilities are knocked out because of natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes. It serves as a replacement for communications, Morgan said.

The antennae have been installed at places such as hospitals, police departments and fire departments and quickly can be dismantled before the storm hits, Mikus said.

REDiSats have been developed in the past year, he said.

"Banks and major data centers might put this in," Morgan said.

The reliability of the company's satellites is 99.99999 percent versus a terrestrial network, which has a reliability of between 99.5 percent and 99.7 percent, they said.

Mikus said engineers develop at least three backup equipment component systems for the solutions it develops. The solutions are tested extensively, but there is a support network in Woodbine, Md., if any problems arise. Mikus said if the support system cannot troubleshoot a problem, engineers at the office have access to the solutions they have developed and can troubleshoot and provide engineering advice.

"When the customer gets it, it's plug and play," Mikus said.

AMERICOM Government Services has two other facilities, one in McLean, Va., and one in Princeton, N.J., its headquarters. The Hagerstown office is its "engineering center of excellence," of AMERICOM Government Services, Morgan said.

SES is AMERICOM's corporate parent, she said.

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