The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has awarded TRW a $78 million contract to test high data rate laser communications between geosynchronous orbit and the ground.

The Geosynchronous Lightweight Technology Experiment (GeoLite) spacecraft will include a laser communications experiment and a UHF communications mission. The GeoLite will be used to study how atmospheric conditions affect laser pulses.

The spacecraft, weighing 1,816kg (4,000lb), will be launched on a Boeing Delta II expendable launch vehicle from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Station in early 2001. It will become the first NRO payload to be launched aboard a Delta rocket.

Meanwhile, Boeing rolls out its Delta III rocket in August and continues development of the Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), which aims to cut space launch costs in half.

Source: Flight International