BOSTON and WASHINGTON —
The 2009 budget request unveiled by the U.S. Air Force Feb. 4 is a mixed bag for some new types of space-related capabilities the service has been experimenting with in recent years.
On one hand, the five-year budget projection for so-called operationally responsive space (ORS), which generally refers to relatively low-cost capabilities that can be deployed quickly, is substantially higher now than it was at this time last year. On the other hand, the outlook for counterspace, a category that includes systems intended to protect U.S. satellites as well as neutralize an adversary’s space capabilities, has dimmed since last February.
The Air Force’s 2009 budget request for counterspace systems is $29 million less than the service anticipated it would need at this time last year; the funding profile for 2009-2013 has declined by some $250 million.
Part of the reason, according to service officials, is a delay in development of a system designed to monitor potential threats to U.S. satellites. The Air Force previously planned to award a contract next year for the Rapid Attack Identification Detection and Reporting System (RAIDRS) Block 20 effort, but now intends to take another nine months to study the concept. The Block 20 contract is now scheduled for award in 2010, with deployment of the system – which may include space as well as ground-based elements – slated for 2013, two years later than previously planned.
The initial RAIDRS capability, a ground-based system intended to locate and identify sources of radio-frequency interference to satellites, is slated for deployment in December. Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., is the contractor and the system is based on commercially developed technology.
The Air Force is “still wrestling” with the concept for the Block 20 system, but expects it to cover a much broader array of threats to various satellites, service officials said.
Not all of the Air Force’s space-monitoring efforts are funded under the counterspace account. The Space Based Space Surveillance system and the network of ground-based radars known as the Space Fence are examples. Funding for the Space Based Space Surveillance system dips in 2009. However, funding for upgrades to the Space Fence is slated to increase, from $226 million to $240 million.
Moreover, some counterspace-type capabilities are being pursued as ORS projects. The 2009 budget request for ORS is flat relative to 2008. Through 2013, however, the Air Force anticipates spending some $225 million more these activities than it did at this time last year.
Among the ORS experiments on the service’s plate is TacSat-5, which features the Self-Awareness Space Situational Awareness sensor, a sensor that can be included onboard a variety of satellites to detect potential threats. TacSat-5 is slated to launch in 2010.
The ORS account also includes funds for various experiments that will aid in developing the capability to launch satellites with as few as six days notice in response to an emerging military requirement, Air Force officials said.
According to Air Force documents submitted to Congress along with the 2009 budget request, Congress earmarked $4 million in 2008 for an effort dubbed the Low Earth Orbit Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System, and another $6 million for a classified program. Air Force officials described the former as a University of Hawaii effort to develop small satellites launched from the U.S. Army’s Kwajalein range in the Pacific that would be used to detect missile launches. They said the project, conceived by U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in 2007 and recently transferred to the ORS Program Office, is not funded in the Air Force’s 2009 request.