Next-generation satellite systems for communications and navigation are the big-ticket U.S. military space procurements on tap for the coming months, but a number of contracts for low-cost, quick-reaction space capabilities also are in the works, according to a senior U.S. Air Force official.
Meanwhile, an interim missile warning satellite that had been under consideration likely has fallen off the 2008 procurement agenda, said Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space. In spite of more delays to the next-generation Space Based Infrared System, the successful launch Nov. 10 of the last of the current series of missile warning satellites, known as the Defense Support Program, has allayed concerns about a gap in coverage, he said. The Pentagon will make a final decision on that and other issues related to the Space Based Infrared System after the Air Force briefs defense acquisition czar in late November, he said.
The two largest military space contracts anticipated in the coming weeks or months are the
Communications System (T-Sat) and
GPS 3 navigation system. Award of those contracts had been slated for December but could push into early next year, Payton said in a Nov. 20 interview.
Both competitions pit of Sunnyvale, Calif., against Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif.
Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.,
think tank, said
he has heard speculation from
inside the Defense Department that with so few major military
satellite programs expected to start in the next few years
, industrial base concerns could lead the Pentagon to ensure that each company wins one of the contracts.
Payton, however, said
industrial base concerns would not figure into the award
also likely will see a
Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) contract so the company can
parts for a fourth in that series of secure communications satellites, according to Jo Adail Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. The Air Force had planned to buy three Advanced EHF
satellites, which are slated to begin launching
in 2009, but Congress directed the service to buy a fourth and consider a fifth in the 2008 defense spending bill
, which was signed into law
A contract option for a fifth Advanced EHF
satellite is not planned at this time, but could be added in the future, Stephenson said.
Several contract awards
are likely next year as
part of the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space effort, which is exploring ways
to make relatively low-cost space capabilities more readily available to tactical forces
These could include
an Air Force
for a block of
rockets for launching
small satellites, Payton said
. The likeliest
are the Minotaur, a converted ICBM
offered by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and the Falcon 1 rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., but other options could
emerge for future competitions
, he said.
The Air Force also expects to
award a contract
for development of a flexible spacecraft platform that can accommodate a variety of payloads for Operationally Responsive Space-type missions, Payton said.
Contracting plans for
Operationally Responsive Space missions
are less clear at this time.
senior U.S. military theater commanders met
Nov. 16 to discuss their needs in this area, and that
and reconnaissance payloads ranked at the top of most of the resulting wish lists
U.S. Strategic Command is reviewing and prioritizing those lists and this could lead to contract awards next year for one or more operational missions,
sensors, which can detect objects otherwise hidden by camouflage or foliage,
will be demonstrated aboard the TacSat-3 spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch in the spring, Payton said. If the experiment
goes well, it could lead to the purchase of a small constellation of similar satellites, he said.
Another potential 2008 contract
space-monitoring experiment that was not included in the
2008 budget request, Payton said. Congress added $25 million for the effort,
intended to demonstrate
sensors that can be placed aboard
detect nearby threats, in the 2008 defense spending bill
, he said.
The demonstration sensor could be hosted by an Operationally Responsive Space satellite
, Payton said. The sensor is different from other so-called space situational awareness sensors because its focus is on nearby objects rather than distant ones,
Looking farther out,
the Air Force plans within the next three to four years to begin routine use of secondary payload adapter rings on its Atlas 5 and 4 rockets for
Operationally Responsive Space and other small satellites
, Payton said.