— The U.S. Defense Department’s recent decision to put a missile warning gap-filler satellite on the acquisition fast-track next year is one of several high-profile changes in the last few months to its 2009 space procurement agenda.

While some space contract awards still are scheduled to go forward as planned, others remain in limbo as the Pentagon not only prepares its 2010 budget request but also seeks to adjust the spending blueprint approved by Congress in early October.

For example, the 2009 budget includes $768 million for the U.S. Air Force’s Transformational Satellite, or T-Sat, communications system, a figure approved in anticipation that the service would award a prime contract on that program late this year or early next year. But the Air Force has postponed the award as it re-evaluates its T-Sat requirements.

Meanwhile, Congress derailed U.S. National Reconnaissance Office plans to buy up to two commercial-like imaging satellites under a joint military-intelligence program known as Broad Area Space-based Imagery Collector. While Congress did approve funds for the ground segment for that system, lawmakers put much if not all of that money off limits until the Pentagon and intelligence community complete a study of their satellite imagery collection requirements.

Perhaps the most notable proposed change to the Air Force’s 2009 procurement plan is the addition of the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Infrared Gap Filler System, which Pentagon officials recently decided is needed to head off a possible gap in
missile warning capabilities by around 2014. To help pay for that effort, the Air Force will seek to divert $117 million in 2009 funds budgeted for other programs, according to a Pentagon document.

Even as it pursues the gap filler, the Air Force is pressing ahead with its primary missile warning satellite system, the Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, which consists of dedicated geosynchronous-orbit spacecraft and payloads hosted aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbit. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is under contract to deliver two geosynchronous SBIRS craft and to buy long-lead items for a third. Plans call for putting that third satellite fully under contract in April 2009, along with a third highly elliptical-orbit sensor, according to Air Force spokesman Maj. Richard Johnson.

Two elliptical-orbit SBIRS payloads are in space today aboard classified satellites.

The Pentagon tentatively has approved procurement of a fourth elliptical-orbit SBIRS payload, and of the fourth and fifth geosynchronous satellites, according to a Defense Department source. A decision on whether to buy a sixth dedicated SBIRS satellite or move on to a follow-on missile warning constellation will be based on contractor performance, the source said.

Lockheed Martin also is in the hunt, along with Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., for the contract to build the T-Sat satellites. Both companies have been working on T-Sat system designs under study contracts, and the Air Force indicated in August it was ready to award a production contract.

But the service shifted gears in October, opting to scale back system capabilities. The Air Force likely will present a new set of T-Sat requirements to the Pentagon’s requirements oversight council in early December prior to issuing a new request for proposals, the Defense Department source said. The service also is likely to seek permission to redirect $100 million in 2009 T-Sat funding to pay for other needs, the source said. The first T-Sat satellite is expected to be launched by the end of 2019.

Changes on T-Sat are affecting Air Force plans for its current generation of communications satellites: the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) series built by Boeing, and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency series built by Lockheed Martin. Boeing is under contract for five WGS satellites and is procuring long-lead items for a sixth. The Air Force intends to award the full contract for the sixth satellite in 2009, and may purchase additional craft starting in 2010, Johnson said via e-mail.

Lockheed Martin is under contract for three Advanced Extremely High Frequency secure communications satellites and long long-lead items for a congressionally mandated fourth. The Air Force intends to award a contract for the fourth satellite in mid-2010, Col. Amy Rogerson, a spokeswoman for Air Force Space Command, said via e-mail.

The future
military satellite communications architecture is the focus of much attention right now, according to Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command.

“There is discussion about whether we need to deploy additional WGS satellites,” Kehler told reporters Oct. 30. “We need to make absolutely sure we have gotten to agreement points on requirements and the program architectures that support them, and whether or not we have those programs adequately funded and phased. Those critical issues need to be nailed down at the start.”

The Air Force also will purchase two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle missions from United Launch Alliance of Denver in 2009 and spend a total of $1.1 billion on the program next year. The rockets will launch the sixth GPS 2 satellite and an unidentified Air Force Space Command satellite into orbit in 2011, Johnson said.

On the ground systems side, one of the biggest contracting prizes for next year is the control segment for the Air Force’s GPS 3 satellite navigation constellation. Contract award for the GPS OCX system is expected in June, the Air Force said. Teams led by Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of
, and Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., are competing for the award. Both teams have been designing GPS OCX systems under $160 million development contracts awarded in November 2007.