The Defense Department is planning to increase the operational focus of its experimental

small satellites

beginning in 2010, according to the official overseeing the effort.

To that end, the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program office plans to hold separate briefings in February for industry and government officials about the plans for ORSSat-1 and other ORS projects scheduled over the next two years, according to Col. Kevin McLaughlin, director of the


program office at Kirtland Air Force Base N.M.

ORSSat-1 will feature electro-optical and infrared sensors, McLaughlin said in a written response to questions Jan. 22


The ORS program office also may initiate work in 2008 on a second satellite, known as ORSat-2, depending on the office’s

workload and available funding, McLaughlin said. While the military has yet to select the payload for ORSSat-2, one possibility is a hyperspectral imager, he said.

sensors offer the ability to find enemy vehicles or other equipment through camouflage.

Hyperspectral sensors break reflected light into hundreds of spectral bands, yielding data about the properties of imaged surfaces that would escape detection by other types of sensors. The Pentagon plans to launch an experimental spacecraft known as TacSat-3, which features a hyperspectral payload built by Raytheon Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., this summer.

Satellites with the TacSat and ORSSat designation are

built for

experimentation, but part of the experiment also includes

operational use even though they are not technically considered operational systems.

The ORSSats, which are funded by the ORS program office, are built with the intention of serving as prototypes for future operational spacecraft, while the TacSats reflect more of

the research and development

focus of the military laboratories that build and fund them, McLaughlin


The labs

likely will continue to build TacSats as they may feature technology that is not mature enough for use in operational prototypes like the ORSSats, he said.

The ORS program office, which was established in May

, plans to pick a government organization to run the acquisition of satellites like ORSSat-1, including choosing the contractor to build it, McLaughlin said. “One of the premises of the ORS ‘big sign, little office’ concept is that most projects will be executed through a government acquisition office other than the ORS office,”

he said.

Satellite work under the ORS effort has been “very successful” thus far, McLaughlin said. However, the military still has “a long way to go in terms of building satellites faster and launching faster, especially on a routine basis,” he said.

TacSat-2, which wrapped up operations in December, showed that small, inexpensive satellites may not replace the larger satellites that perform most military space missions today, but

still could be operationally useful for augmenting existing constellations or helping to reconstitute space assets in the event they are not available, McLaughlin said.

The work with TacSat-2 has raised important issues outside of technology that the military will need to address with future ORS missions, McLaughlin said.

“Responsively delivering ORS capabilities is as much about [concepts of operations], processes, policies, procedures, authorities and relationships as about technology,” he

said. ”The TacSat series of satellites is paving the way toward operational capabilities by exercising and maturing all of the enablers needed to make ORS operational satellites successful, both technical and non-technical. While ORS will be building small satellites, that is just one facet of ORS’s overarching focus on responsively delivering robust end-to-end capabilities to the warfighter.”

One instance that Pentagon officials cited as a significant frustration, but ultimately valuable learning experience, was the Air Force’s inability

to turn on the main sensors aboard TacSat-2 for several months following its launch in December 2006 due to a debate between the Air Force and intelligence community over tasking authority.

While ORS proponents within the military were not pleased that the delay in turning on the sensors cut into their time to experiment with TacSat-2, they said

they were glad that the process highlighted the tasking issue so that it could be resolved before similar satellites are used in military operations.