Officials in the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office
are close to deciding
whether to go ahead with a
new payload and mission proposed for an experimental small satellite whose long-delayed launch was canceled last year. The revised
TacSat-1, called TacSat-1A,
would feature a maritime identification payload, according to Pentagon sources and documents.
The actual date for a decision is Jan. 25,” U.S. Air Force Maj. David W. Small, a spokesman for the service here, said
in a Jan. 11 e-mail.
TacSat-1, which was to be the first of a series of experimental satellites intended to demonstrate the
operationally responsive space concept, originally was to have carried an imaging payload and a radio frequency identification device. But the mission was delayed repeatedly, primarily due to problems associated with its unproven Falcon-1 launcher, and eventually was leapfrogged in the deployment queue by the TacSat-2 satellite carrying a similar payload.
launched successfully on a Minotaur rocket in December 2006, and its on-orbit operations made TacSat-1 less relevant from a demonstration point of view. TacSat-1’s launch
officially was canceled in August and the completed satellite was placed into storage. At the time, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Griswold, a space strategist in the Rapid Reaction Technology Office under the Pentagon’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDRE), raised the possibility of upgrading TacSat-1 with a new payload.
According to sources and documents, the Washington-based U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the lead agency on TacSat-1, held a combined mission requirements-system design review for a revamped mission Dec. 19. The new plan would add an automatic identification system for maritime surveillance and new encryption capabilities to the satellite, according to briefing documents made available to Space News.
It was unclear from the documents whether the modified satellite would retain its low-resolution imaging or radio frequency tagging payloads.
Two Defense Department
sources were not able to provide clarification by press time.
The Automatic Identification System would receive and distribute identifying signals from ships at sea for users in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard has a similar demonstration device slated to launch in the coming months aboard a low-orbiting commercial communications satellite, a launch that has seen repeated delays.
would launch in 2009
and operate for two years, the briefing documents show.
If the revised
mission is approved, the DDRE would contribute $3.5 million using funds appropriated for 2007 and 2008, the briefing documents show. The ORS Office and the Navy would contribute $7 million and $6 million, respectively, the documents show.
“That is a miniscule amount of money to make these changes and to help prove the ORS concept,” said a Pentagon source who supports the plan.
The ORS Office, headed by Air Force Col. Kevin McLaughlin,
originally was due to decide Jan. 11 whether to approve the project.
However, two Pentagon sources said it was unclear whether the office had the authority to give the final go-ahead or also would
need formal agreement from the Office of Secretary of Defense and the Navy.
Small said in his e-mail that TacSat-1 “even without flying, has produced a number of lessons learned that are beneficial to the overall ORS effort.”
TacSat-1A mission likely would launch aboard a Falcon-1 rocket, which was developed by startup Space Exploration Technologies Corp. () of El Segundo, Calif., according to sources and briefing documents. The Pentagon’s cancellation of the TacSat-1 launch did not void its contract with SpaceX. However, there may be issues that will have to be worked out before that contract could be used for the TacSat-1A launch, according to a Defense Department source.
The Falcon-1 has failed to reach orbit on its only two launches to date. SpaceX is planning a third Falcon-1 launch in the first quarter this year as a demonstration mission but the date has yet to be determined.