Profile: Back to Basics

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  Space News Business

Profile: Back to Basics

By JEREMY SINGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 09 October 2006
04:27 pm ET


Ronald M. Sega

Undersecretary, U.S. Air Force

R on Sega did not inherit an easy task when he was sworn in last year as undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force. In addition to serving as the No. 2 Air Force civilian official, the undersecretary is charged with overseeing the service’s space portfolio, which was rife with problem programs experiencing cost overruns and schedule delays.

Sega has been busy working to bring troubled programs like the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) under control, and establish a foundation for the next batch of space programs — like the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications system — so they can avoid the problems they face today.

Sega is no stranger to space, having flown on space shuttle crews in the 1990s that included Kevin Chilton, now a four-star general and commander of Air Force Space Command.

The approach Sega has taken to ensure a better future for space programs involves fielding systems in blocks that are upgraded as the military and its industry partners push the boundaries of technology.

To ensure that this does not shortchange the user community, Sega and his staff have been working closely with combatant commands like U.S. Strategic Command and the Joint Staff to find the solutions that meet the military’s needs without overreaching, minimizing the risk of running into the problems while doing so.

Sega talked about the issues on his agenda during a Sept. 28 telephone interview with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.


What is the likely effect of the $230 million reduction to
your 2007 budget request for the T-Sat program ?

We clearly would have liked to have had the president’s budget request supported. We will work with the funding provided. It’s still a pretty significant increase over the current budget for the program. When compared to previous years, it looks as though Congress’ confidence has increased.

What is your definition of operationally responsive space, and where does it stand on your priority list?

We recently stood up a squadron in New Mexico for operationally responsive space. At the end of July, we created some wings under the Space and Missile Systems Center; one was the space development and test wing, which now includes the operationally responsive space squadron. The attribute we want operationally responsive to have is to have things done more quickly.

Small satellites can be used for several purposes in my view. One is for tactical purposes, where there are new needs that can be addressed by bringing together the right parts and subsystems in a small satellite for use by a tactical commander. Small satellites could be used to augment existing capabilities or replenish a constellation if something happens to a satellite that is on orbit.

Another purpose is using smaller satellites to test new technology during the development of new systems, which also provides more opportunities for the scientific community to have access to space.

There is also the possibility of doing more of our 24/7 sustained work with smaller satellites as we go forward.

So smaller satellites can be very beneficial.

Can you comment on the rumors that the money for operationally responsive space has been eliminated in your planned 2008 budget request?

Our budget request is still going through the review process, but I can tell you that I’m a supporter of operationally responsive space. We think that small satellites and so forth are an important part of our future. Having compatible boosters and places to operate the satellites is equally important.

I testified before Congress last spring that the operationally responsive space concept and the small satellites would be an area we’d be placing more emphasis on, and we’ll work through the fall review to see exactly what the number will be, but we support it.

What is driving the Air Force to offer incentives to the contractors competing to build GPS 3 to have the first satellite ready to launch in 2011, two years ahead of the current schedule?

Some of the work under discussion regarding GPS 3 is aligned with the back-to-basics block approach to fielding space systems. We’ve evolved GPS in a sense over the years with the block approach — Blocks 1, 2A , 2RM and 2F. The GPS 2F satellites will represent an important increase in capability, but when we look at the additional frequency and power associated with GPS 3, as well as our desire to cut the development cycle time associated with space systems and give us margin to ensure we have a healthy, robust GPS constellation, we feel it is important to do that sooner rather than later.

 

Do you consider GPS 3 to be a poster program for your back
to basics approach?

I hope it does provide a good example of the back to basics block approach.

 

What drove the recent decision to move to GPS tracking at the Air Force’s two space launch ranges in the United States by Jan. 1, 2011?

We want to make sure the criteria are established. We take public safety very, very seriously. We want to make sure we get it right before the mandatory date. We also need lead time for booster work over the next couple of years to ensure compatibility with GPS tracking. We are currently doing GPS tracking testing with ICBMs, so we have a head start. The timing would also coincide with NASA’s plans to retire the space shuttle.

 

What was your reaction to the Chinese laser that was
recently aimed at a U.S. satellite?

I can’t comment on that, but space situational awareness is an area where we’re spending more and more energy.

 

What is the scenario under which you might buy a third SBIRS High satellite?

The key to the decision on the follow-on satellite to the second SBIRS satellite is based on our understanding of how the production, assembly and testing work is going on the first SBIRS satellite, as well as the progress on the Alternative Infrared Satellite System.

 

Will you know enough about the Alternative Infrared Satellite System in time to make a decision that will not require a break in production on the SBIRS line?

I hope so.

The decision regarding the SBIRS production line has to be made by next spring or next summer. The Alternative Infrared Satellite System is next generation in terms of technology. Sometimes that can actually make operations simpler, but we have to wait and see how work progresses on each system before we can make a decision.

What was your reaction to the recent RAND Corp. study that recommended choosing between the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets?

I’ve read the recommendations in the study. We’re still pretty early in our experience with launching those rockets. We’ve had a good, solid string of successful launches, but we also want a bit more experience before we could consider choosing just one of them.