Senate Authorizers Approve $20 Million for ORS Office

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A draft version of the U.S. Senate’s 2015 defense authorization bill calls for spending up to $20 million for a rapid-response military space office the Air Force wants to shut down.

The bill, which the Senate Armed Services Committee approved May 22 by a vote of 25-1, recommends $20 million to continue designing a low-cost space situational awareness satellite.

The Operationally Responsive Space Office, established at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, in 2007, is tasked with quickly developing low-cost space capabilities in response to emerging military needs. The U.S. Air Force has been seeking to close the office — the service requested no money for it in 2015 — but has been stymied by Congress.

The office is expected to begin work this year on at least one of two proposed satellites. One of the satellites, ORS-2, would carry a radar sensor for ground reconnaissance; the other, ORS-5, would be used for space surveillance.

The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4435), which passed May 22 by a vote of 325-98, authorizes up to $30 million for the office.

The Senate Armed Service Committee’s version — which must still pass the full Senate — requires the Air Force to competitively award the ORS-5 launch contract. 

Meanwhile, the bill also prohibits funding for storage of the last of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites, known as DMSP F20, unless the Defense Department intends to launch the satellite and will have money to do so by 2019.

The House also approved language urging the launch of that satellite, authorizing an additional $135 million to the Air Force’s main satellite launching program for a launch, with the stipulation that it be competitively procured.