Defense Spending Act Pushes Smarter Investments in Space

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WASHINGTON — The 2010 defense spending bill signed into law Dec. 19 by U.S. President Barack Obama trims funding for missile warning technology development and nudges the U.S. Air Force toward more hardware commonality on its two main rocket families, but otherwise tracks fairly closely with the Pentagon’s request.

The 2010 Defense Appropriations Act also includes provisions designed to ensure the U.S. military is making wise investments in space. Supporting language in the House version of the bill, the final measure mandates the Defense Department develop a 15-year space investment strategy, which would include estimates of the annual funding needed for individual space programs and to sustain the U.S. industrial base. The House bill originally proposed this be a 30-year strategy. The strategy must be delivered to congressional defense committees by May 1, according to language in the report accompanying the act.

The law also requires the Defense Department to take new steps toward maintaining a robust space launch capability. Following language in the House bill, the law directs the Pentagon to develop a plan to ensure that the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program can be sustained through 2030. This plan is due with the Pentagon’s 2011 budget request.

Congress also provided $20 million to study options and begin research and development of a common upper stage to be used on both EELV rocket families, the Atlas 5 and Delta 4. Currently the vehicles use different variants of the RL-10 built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif. Report language urges the Air Force begin modifying the Delta 4’s RL-10 variant to the configuration used by the Atlas 5 to enable more efficient use of the existing RL-10 inventory, the report said.

Congress remains concerned about the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), whose status remains uncertain as the White House continues to contemplate management and budgetary changes. The act provides the requested $396.6 million for NPOESS in 2010 — a similar amount was appropriated for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s share of the joint effort — but it fences off half of that money until the Pentagon’s acquisition chief certifies in writing to Congress that the program will meet the military’s requirements, schedule and cost goals.

One of the major points of contention between the House and Senate versions of the spending bill was the Air Force’s Third Generation Infrared Surveillance program, the follow-on to the Space Based Infrared System, which has had major problems. The Senate fully funded the Pentagon’s $143.2 million request for the program, while the House provided only $39.2 million. The final bill split the difference, providing $73.4 million.

The Third Generation Infrared Surveillance program currently features two main efforts: an experimental sensor to be hosted aboard an SES Americom commercial communications satellite slated to launch in January 2011; and a Raytheon-built experimental sensor that the company is now qualifying for flight under a recently awarded contract modification.

The House and Senate were also at odds over whether to fund in 2010 full procurement of the Air Force’s seventh Wideband Global Satcom communications satellite. The service did not request funding for this satellite this year, but the House added $475 million to its bill to fund it. The final act did not include funding for the seventh satellite.