ORS Office Hopes to Team with NASA for Satellite Development

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WASHINGTON — NASA is close to finalizing a plan under which its Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., will act as the acquisition agent for the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office’s new satellite development center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., a military official said Oct. 8.

NASA Ames is led by retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pete Worden, a responsive-space advocate who has put an emphasis on small satellites during his tenure at the Silicon Valley field center. Ames’ small satellite projects are overseen by Director of Engineering Pete Klupar, who previously worked for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland.

When the acquisition plan for the Rapid Response Space Works facility is finalized, it will put the ORS Office on track to build and launch an operational radar satellite called SARsat in December 2012, Chuck Finley, the ORS program lead for tier two missions, said in an interview.

Rapid Response Space Works, nicknamed Chileworks, was conceived to fulfill the ORS Office’s so-called tier two mission of building and launching operational satellites to augment or replace existing capabilities in as little as seven days. In addition to the existing spacecraft development facilities at Kirtland Air Force Base, the ORS Office this month will take over and begin modifications of other facilities at the base that are currently occupied by a directed-energy development group.

Ames Research Center will soon release a draft solicitation to begin the process of choosing a single industry team around March 2010 to staff Chileworks at Kirtland, Finley said. The ORS Office has budgeted around $2 million a year to keep this team in place.

Chileworks also will have another series of contracts with many industry partners that will enable the shop to quickly make task orders for all manner of spacecraft parts as needs arise. Chileworks will spend the next year or two developing standards so that most of the components purchased from industry will be interoperable, Finley said.

While there will be interim projects that are developed at Chileworks, the shop will be considered operational in 2012 when it completes the SARsat mission. That program will be a dress rehearsal for the shop’s ultimate goal of responding within days to urgent military needs. Chileworks will receive a mock urgent request from U.S. Pacific Command for an on-orbit radar capability, and the shop will build a satellite, launch it, and turn over to the Navy an operational capability in a period of seven days, Finley said.

“SARsat will be the first mission where we exercise Chileworks for an end-to-end capability, meaning we get a fake call for an urgent need, and seven days later we have an on-orbit capability,” he said. “It’s going to make peoples’ eyes water.

“We believe when we have executed an end-to-end demonstration of one single capability, we can tell the world this is possible, and now let’s start working on the other configurations of that architecture.”

The arrangement with Ames Research Center is necessary because the ORS Office does not have contracting authority. But Ames is much more than a pass through for money, Finley said.

“Ames has a real interest in what we’re trying to create here. Our objective is very rapid response times down to seven days,” he said. “So Ames also sees they could really reduce their costs if they can exploit an architecture that we’re building that will allow them to build spacecraft much more quickly and be more flexible. They are very actively involved.”