WASHINGTON — Owing to delays driven primarily by budgetary uncertainty, three of the biggest U.S. military space contracts expected in 2014 are holdovers from last year: a next-generation space surveillance and tracking radar, a consolidation of launch range operations and maintenance work and a new line of satellite terminals for critical strategic communications. 

The U.S. Air Force also is expected to finalize contracts with Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., for additional satellites in its latest constellations for missile warning and navigation. But the long-term future of these and other satellite programs of record is uncertain as the Air Force continues to examine alternatives to its existing space architectures, an exercise driven by both budgetary and vulnerability concerns.

“Certainly the budget challenges have been difficult over this past year,” Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said Jan. 7 in a speech here to students at George Washington University. “And I’ll predict they will continue long after I retire.”

Aerospace companies are nonetheless hoping for a return to normality, or at least a new normal, in 2014. Following passage earlier in January of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014, the Pentagon has a budget, not merely a continuing resolution, to guide program spending for the first time in recent memory and Air Force leaders are hoping to move forward with the stalled capability upgrades.

Chief among them is the Space Fence, the Air Force’s improved space debris tracking system.

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training of Moorestown, N.J., and Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., have developed competing designs for the next-generation Space Fence under Air Force study contracts. The Air Force, which already has spent more than $1 billion on the effort, was supposed to select a prime contractor in 2013 but delayed the award at least until April.

Shelton, who in public appearances rarely misses an opportunity to cite the Space Fence as a priority, in January expressed hope that the latest contract plans hold. 

The program is expected to cost at least $1.8 billion, according to a revised request for proposals issued late last year. 

Also pushed into 2014 was a contract to consolidate three existing launch range support contracts into one. The Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract (LISC) is expected to be a 10-year deal potentially worth $2.5 billion to $3 billion.

Four teams are believed to have bid for the LISC contract in May:

  • Consolidated Range Enterprise, whose members include Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions of Gaithersburg, Md.; InDyne Corp. of Reston, Va.; and URS Corp. of San Francisco.
  • InSpace21, whose members include PAE of Arlington, Va., and Honeywell Corp. of Morristown, N.J.
  • Raytheon Intelligence Information and Services of Dulles, Va., whose teammates include General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va.; ASRC Aerospace Corp. of Greenbelt, Md.; ARES Corp. of Burlingame, Calif.; Schafer Corp. of Arlington; and Primus Solutions of Greenbelt.
  • Exelis Information Systems of McLean, Va., which is bidding with BAE Systems of Arlington and L-3 Communications of New York.

The LISC award has been repeatedly delayed, most recently to give the Air Force time to settle its strategy for a separate but related contract dubbed Range Operations Support, which is a set-aside for small businesses. In the meantime, the service has been awarding extensions to its three existing range support contracts.

Also held over from 2013 is the military satellite communications terminal project known as the Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminal (FAB-T) systems.

Boeing Network and Space Systems of Arlington and McKinney, Texas-based Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems are developing competing FAB-T systems, which would enable the president to communicate with the national command authority during a nuclear war. The terminals are designed to operate with the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation of highly secure, jam-proof communications satellites.

The FAB-T prime contract award is now expected in March, industry officials said.

Although there are no new satellite development projects on the Air Force’s near-term horizon, the service is expected to modify existing production contracts with Lockheed Martin Space Systems for the fifth and sixth Space Based Infrared System missile warning satellites, and the seventh and eighth GPS 3 navigation satellites. Lockheed Martin last year began ordering components for these spacecraft.

Congress has authorized the Air Force to spend $3.9 billion on the new missile warning spacecraft, which according to service budget documents would be launched in 2019 and 2020.

On the smaller end of the scale, the Air Force plans to award several indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts to a mix of satellite operators and space hardware manufacturers as part of its Hosted Payload Solutions program. The aim is to set up a stable of qualified providers of services for hosted payload missions, which involve flying military payloads aboard commercial spacecraft.

Among the hosted payloads the Air Force is eyeing in the near term is a follow-on to its successful Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload program, under which it recently completed testing of an experimental missile warning sensor aboard a commercial communications satellite. The service says it hopes to launch the follow-on demonstration in 2016.

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...