COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When Israel’s TechSAR-1 radar imaging spacecraft joins that country’s growing space reconnaissance fleet later this year, it also will be auditioning for a big potential customer — the U.S. Department of Defense.
TechSAR-1 builder Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has reached an agreement with Northrop Grumman Space Technology that gives the U.S. company rights to sell modified versions of the spacecraft to the Pentagon. Officials with both companies are hoping TechSAR-1, slated for launch this year aboard an Indian rocket, will help stoke the Pentagon’s interest.
Jeffrey Grant, vice president of business development at Northrop Grumman Space Technology, said the company already is trying to convince the White House to include funding for TechSAR clones in its 2009 budget request to Congress. In if such a program is approved, initial plans call for IAI to ship the basic platform to be modified at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif.
During a press conference April 11 here at the National Space Symposium 2007, Grant said the cost of modifying TechSAR platforms and launching them aboard Minotaur rockets would be $175 million to $200 million. The Minotaur is a small rocket that utilizes excess missile hardware.
The IAI-Northrop Grumman agreement is the result of an initiative by Israel’s Ministry of Defense to offset the costs of its space efforts through international collaboration and sales to friendly countries.
The Pentagon is exploring small satellites as a way to sidestep the long production times associated with large, multi-billion-dollar defense and spy satellites. The goal of the Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space initiative is to build satellites quickly, in months instead of years, and tailor them for particular military operations, U.S. military officials have said.
The Pentagon plans to demonstrate the concept by launching a series of experimental Tactical Satellites, or TacSats, and conducting military simulations and field exercises. The first of those satellites, TacSat-2, was launched in December.
Northrop Grumman officials say TechSAR fits the bill for Operationally Responsive Space. TechSAR-1 has an added advantage in that, unlike the TacSat satellites, it is an operational system, these officials note. And because it is such a small platform, weighing less than 360 kilograms, it can be assembled quickly, they say.
“The satellite can be built, from the time receipt of order in 28 months ,” said Grant.
Northrop Grumman officials have started meeting with “executive branch” officials whom Grant declined to name. “My hope would be, if we’re successful, to have a budget line in the ’09 budget,” Grant said.
However, Northrop officials don’t expect the idea to gain traction among U.S. military commanders until TechSAR-1 is up and operating. So far, there has been no exchange of funds between Northrop Grumman and Lod, Israel-based IAI.
“After the TechSAR-1 launch we will have the capability to demonstrate its capability to a class of customers,” said Stephen Hixson, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for advanced concepts.
TechSAR-1’s X-band radar is designed to provide imagery day or night and under all weather conditions. The satellite will not be able to directly detect ground movements in real time, but it could spot evidence thereof, such as trails and wakes. It also could , over a series of orbital passes, show that an object has moved from one location to another, Grant said.
“It’s a store and dump system. It can collect over one area of the world and then dump it to another,” Grant said.
Hixson said he feels confident about the teaming arrangement because of his work with IAI on the Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle. At the time, Hixson worked for TRW, which was later purchased by Northrop Grumman.
“TRW, the heritage company, did a very similar thing with the Hunter [unmanned aerial vehicle] program, where IAI actually had us as a subcontractor to do that. It allowed us to leverage their technology ,” he said .