Goodrich ISR Systems of Danbury, Conn., is finishing environmental testing of the final component to be installed on a new tactical surveillance satellite now planned for launch in April 2011, U.S. Defense Department officials said Dec. 9.
Launch of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office’s ORS-1 satellite was previously planned for this fall, but it has been delayed by challenges with its imaging payload, which is a variant of the unit flown on U-2 spy planes. Prime contractor Goodrich, for example, had trouble getting the payload’s camera properly aligned, said Tom Davis, the ORS-1 mission manager. The most recent complications have been with the payload’s digital data storage unit, Davis said.
Engineers hope to have the data storage unit installed this month so that environmental testing of the integrated satellite can be completed in January, he said. The satellite then will be shipped off for launch aboard a Minotaur-1 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The satellite could have been ready to launch before April, but because there is only one launch crew for all the Minotaur rockets, a logjam has developed, ORS Office Director Peter Wegner said in an interview. ORS-1 is now behind a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office technology demonstration mission in the launch queue.
“We need to look at our launch operations and try to streamline the way that we’re doing things,” Wegner said. “It really has become a constraint for us.”
To ensure the nation has more ready access to space, the ORS Office will study the options for either adding a second Minotaur launch crew or using commercial launch providers, Wegner said. The Pentagon would have to work through new issues such as launch insurance and indemnification if it wants to use commercial rockets to launch operational satellites in the future, he said.