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

Transformational Satellite

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 Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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



Next year

also likely will see a

modification to

Lockheed Martin’s

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

Nov. 13.

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.

Payton said

senior U.S. military theater commanders met

Nov. 16 to discuss their needs in this area, and that

intelligence, surveillance

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,

Payton said.

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

involves a

space-monitoring experiment that was not included in the

Air Force’s

2008 budget request, Payton said. Congress added $25 million for the effort,

intended to demonstrate

sensors that can be placed aboard

satellites to

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,

he said.

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 Delta 4 rockets for

Operationally Responsive Space and other small satellites

, Payton said.