ORS Program Office Given New Home at Kirtland AFB

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LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Defense Department will establish a new program office for responsive space efforts at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., in May, according to a senior Pentagon official.

The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program office is expected to be fully functional by Oct. 1, according to Joseph Rouge, associate director of the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office.

The blueprint for the office is laid out in a congressionally mandated report on the military’s plans for Operationally Responsive Space that was signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and sent to Capitol Hill April 19, Rouge told an audience at the Responsive Space Conference here April 24.

The new office will be headed by U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin McLaughlin, who will retain his duties as commander of the Space Development and Test Wing at Kirtland and report directly to Air Force Undersecretary Ron Sega, Rouge said.

Sega will oversee the new office’s acquisition and development work. The office’s priorities will be based on the needs of the military as coordinated by U.S. Strategic Command, according to Pentagon officials familiar with the report. The office will take the needs articulated by Strategic Command, and look for quick solutions, the officials said.

The first option will be to find ways to meet commanders’ needs by improving the responsiveness of existing space systems through measures including new ground systems and improvements to those already in use, Rouge said.

If those needs cannot be met through improving existing systems, the office could elect to pursue the launch of a new satellite that could be launched in no more than a year, and hopefully far sooner, depending the level of work required to meet the commander’s needs, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Bob Kehler, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

While the office would help define the solution to meet a commander’s needs, the development of new hardware like small satellites would be left to the military services and agencies, Rouge said. However, the office, which will have a staff of 10 to 20, will be responsible for purchasing blocks of rockets to launch payloads like the experimental TacSat satellites and the operational spacecraft that are expected to follow, Rouge said.

While McLaughlin is expected to continue to report through the Air Force Space and Missile System Center for his duties as commander of the Space Development and Test Wing, advocates for the Operationally Responsive Space concept within the military said that they were pleased to see that he will report directly to Sega for his responsive space work.

One possibility raised during the planning for the new office was to have it report to the Space and Missile Systems Center, which is responsible for the acquisition of most unclassified military satellites and rockets.

However, the Space and Missile Systems Center, which was plagued by cost growth and schedule delays throughout its satellite portfolio in recent years, might not have been able to foster the unconventional approach needed to develop satellites that cost less and can be built and launched faster than the assets on orbit today, according to Pentagon and congressional sources.