ORS Office Presses Ahead with Plans Despite Looming Closure

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WASHINGTON — Managers of the U.S. Air Force-led rapid response space initiative known as Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) are moving forward with plans to launch two more demonstration missions despite the service’s stated intent to close out the activity next year.

In its 2013 budget request, the Air Force proposed shuttering the ORS Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and allocating $10 million to integrate ORS concepts into other military space programs. However, the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee is pushing back against that proposal.

In marking up its portion of the 2013 defense authorization bill in April, the House panel called for funding ORS activities at $25 million in 2013. The subcommittee recommended no funding for the ORS integration activity, which is spread across five space accounts in the service’s budget request.

Peter Wegner, director of the ORS Office, said the launch of the ORS-3 mission is scheduled for next summer from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va. The primary payload is the Space Test Program Satellite-3, built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., featuring standardized payload interfaces that will carry four Defense Department experiments.

The ORS-3 mission payload also includes 16 tiny cubesats stacked atop the main satellite, Wegner said during an April 18 press conference during the 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. A cubesat is a small satellite for space research that uses a standardized platform, or bus, and commercial off-the-shelf components.

Congress appropriated $110 million for ORS programs in 2012. The ORS-3 mission was fully funded with money from the 2011 and 2012 budgets, according to Valerie Skarupa, an ORS Office spokeswoman.

Air Force officials have already procured ORS-3’s launch aboard a Minotaur 1 rocket, Skarupa said in an April 26 email. Minotaur rockets are assembled by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and utilize excess ICBM motors.

ORS program officials also plan to launch ORS-2, alternatively known as the Modular Space Vehicle (MSV), in fiscal year 2015, according to Skarupa. ORS-2 will carry a radar surveillance instrument, Skarupa said.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor for MSV and Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev., is the payload provider, Wegner said.

However, ORS-2 is not fully funded, according to Skarupa. Funds currently available for the mission are sufficient to complete the MSV satellite bus and take the payload development activity to critical design review, a programmatic milestone after which hardware assembly can begin, she said.

Air Force plans call for using a portion of the 2012 ORS budget to transfer technology and lessons from the activity to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the service’s procurement shop for space systems, Skarupa said.

Air Force Col. Carol Welsch, acting director of SMC’s space development and test directorate, said the ORS activity has demonstrated that operationally relevant capabilities can be deployed on small satellites or as hosted payloads.

Small satellites “are more affordable to build,” Welsch said during the April 18 press conference in Colorado Springs. “They are more affordable to launch. So by taking that tenet now and tying it into the architecture — which is very, very important — we are looking at the architecture and how we can augment the capabilities in the existing architectures with these more affordable disaggregate-type systems.”

Wegner said ORS principles have not yet changed the way SMC does business but added that things appear to be moving in the right direction.

The ORS Office was established in May 2007 to oversee Defense Department efforts to develop and field low-cost space capabilities quickly in response to emerging military needs. Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, told lawmakers March 8 the proposal to eliminate the program is part of the service’s contribution to $487 billion in defense spending reductions mandated over the next decade by the Budget Control Act of 2011.