Pentagon Seeks To Shift 2010 Money to ORS-1, Other Efforts

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WASHINGTON — A U.S. military reconnaissance satellite whose development is being rushed to provide support to U.S. combat forces is slated for a funding boost this year under a broad Defense Department reprogramming request recently sent to Capitol Hill.

The $3.9 billion reprogramming package, under which funds allocated for specific programs in 2010 would be redirected to more pressing needs, was signed off on July 2 by Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale and is awaiting the approval of the congressional defense committees, government and industry sources said.

The request asks that $15.7 million be redirected to an optical and infrared reconnaissance satellite dubbed ORS-1 to ensure that it is ready to launch in November as planned, according to a copy of the request obtained by Space News. If the reprogramming is approved, the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office would be funded at $238.2 million this year; ORS-1 is the office’s most substantial development program to date.

ORS-1 is being developed in response to what Pentagon officials have characterized as an urgent need from U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The satellite is being built by a team of Goodrich Corp. and Alliant Techsystems and utilizes camera hardware originally developed for the U-2 spy plane program.

The Pentagon also seeks to double its investment this year in next-generation satellite communications technologies. Congress provided the Air Force with $49.8 million in 2010 to leverage technologies developed under the futuristic Transformational Satellite communications system, which was canceled last year.

The Pentagon is seeking an additional $52 million for this purpose in its reprogramming request. The funds could be used to study upgrades to the U.S. Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite constellations or to examine arrangements to host Transformational Satellite-type technologies aboard commercial satellites, according to the reprogramming request.

The money for these and other programs would come at the expense of programs now deemed less of a priority by the Pentagon. Upgrades to the Air Force’s Launch and Test Range Systems have been deferred, and thus $25 million less is needed than the $99.4 million appropriated for this year, the document shows. The funding reduction would delay improvements that would enable the ranges to track launches using GPS signals and terminate rockets automatically if they malfunction.

The Pentagon also seeks to reduce by $27 million funding for the Family of Advanced Beyond-line-of-sight Terminals program. The terminals, being designed to work with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, have been delayed, and funding to begin production has been deferred from 2010 to 2012, the document shows.

The Air Force also requested that $2.7 million appropriated for GPS satellite navigation hardware be reallocated because procurement of GPS 3 hardware has been deferred until next year.

Meanwhile, in a separate reprogramming package submitted to Congress on June 11, the Pentagon is seeking an additional $24.8 million for the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), government and industry sources said. MUOS is an ultra-high frequency satellite communications system designed to support ships at sea and mobile land forces operating in challenging environments, such as beneath thick forest canopies.

The MUOS program has encountered developmental difficulties and delays, with the launch of the first satellite now slated for December 2011. Congress appropriated $895.8 million for the program this year amid concerns about a looming gap in ultra-high frequency communications capabilities.