Air Force Could Penalize Lockheed for AEHF Glitch

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The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin Space Systems are engaged in financial negotiations related to an on-orbit component failure that has delayed operations of a secure communications satellite, service officials said Feb. 15.

“We’re in the midst of active negotiations,” Air Force Under Secretary Erin Conaton said during a Pentagon press briefing. “I would say that we’re looking at the operational and the financial sort of implications here.”

The first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite built by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Lockheed Martin was launched in August. The satellite was properly deployed by its launch vehicle but the liquid apogee engine that was expected to carry it most of the way to geostationary orbit failed. Operators devised a plan to use the satellite’s smaller thrusters to get it to the proper orbit, albeit at least six months later than expected.

The engine failure likely was caused by cleaning material in a fuel line that was not properly flushed out, Richard McKinney, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, said during the Pentagon press briefing. Lockheed and the Air Force have taken steps to ensure that a second AEHF satellite set to launch this year is contamination-free.