�record year in terms of revenue and profit
�ended on a down note for Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. following the company’s losses in competitions to build the avionics ring for NASA’s Ares 1 launcher and a lightning mapping instrument for a new generation of U.S. geostationary orbiting weather satellites.
But other opportunities are on the horizon, not the least of which is the U.S. government’s plan to recapitalize its fleet of optical imaging satellites.
The U.S. Department of Defense
has not settled on a procurement strategy or requirements for the BASIC, or Broad Area Satellite Imagery Collection, system, but Ball has an opportunity that it might not have seen just five or 10 years ago. This is because the program is expected to feature, at least in part, the kinds of satellite capabilities that Boulder, Colo.-based Ball
�already has built for commercial imagery provider DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo.
QuickBird satellite, launched in 2001, gathers imagery at resolutions as sharp as 0.61 meters, or detailed enough to discern ground objects of that size and larger. WorldView-1, launched in September, has 0.50-meter resolution. Both satellites are utilized heavily by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which processes and distributes imagery for the U.S. military and intelligence community.
Based on the experience of building QuickBird and WorldView-1, Ball feels it is in position to compete aggressively on national security imaging programs, such as the BASIC program, perhaps even for a prime contracting role. The responsibility of winning that business will fall largely on Frederick Doyle, who runs
�the company’s classified business.
Doyle spoke recently with Space News staff writer Turner Brinton.
The U.S. government is trying to sort out the relative roles of commercial and government-owned satellites in its new image-collection architecture. Either way, is Ball better positioned as a supplier than in 1999 or 2000?
Yes we are. There are traditional ways that the government
�that type of capability for the defense-intelligence market. Certainly the National Reconnaissance Office is a big player in that. The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center also would
�like to be a player there, and back in that time frame
we hadn’t proven our capabilities
�with this class of satellite. Well, we’ve done that now. We’ve built that class of satellite
at a cost point that becomes very attractive to the government.
What was your reaction to the report on how commercial satellites fit into the overall architecture that was prepared by consultant Peter Marino?
We thought it was a favorable report because it said there is value in the class of satellites we are providing for the commercial industry.
Do you think Ball is now positioned to compete as a prime contractor on classified government satellite programs?
We do. There are a number of government organizations right now that are interested in understanding the applications of the class of satellites we build. They are interested in how they can be adapted for military and intelligence purposes. We are actually talking to folks about the definition of a program that would make that a reality.
There has been some suggestion that
the BASIC program should be developed in the unclassified domain
you see any potential benefit in that?
really a government call whether they classify programs. We have the ability to operate in both domains. If people find utility in the class of satellites we build, then we would like to provide that as a best-value solution to the government in the classified or open domain. But openness is better in one respect because it makes tracking the progress of a program easier for the warfighters.
What proportion of Ball’s work is in the defense arena?
We’re about half defense now, up from around 35 percent or 40 percent several years ago.
Is Ball’s classified work on the rise?
Yes it is. When you combine the work we do across all the systems for military and intelligence organizations, we had a slight increase from 2006.
There is a general assumption that the defense budget, or at least the amount of funding for the types of systems you build, will remain flat or even decline in 2009. Are you prepared for that?
It’s something we always look out for in business planning. We see a number of near-term opportunities for Ball in the defense arena, whether the total budget goes up or down. Areas we are focusing on are space situational awareness and operationally responsive space where we have existing programs in the Space-Based Space Surveillance system and the Space Test Program Standard Interface Vehicle.
Another area we see as a high priority is our advanced geospatial intelligence analysis for the National Air and Space Intelligence Center in Dayton, Ohio, which analyzes enemy air and space military capabilities for the U.S. government.
Are there any programs that you are particularly concerned about for 2009?
One area we are concerned about in the 2009 budget request is the Transformational Satellite
communications system. We are on the Boeing team competing for the space segment, and it looks like the government may not fully fund that program. In our annual strategic planning, we must anticipate programs out beyond a three-year horizon. We need to know whether the mission areas we are supporting are still a priority for the government and defense community.
Standard Interface Vehicle
is supposed to increase flexibility and reduce the cost of launching experiments into orbit. Do you expect the opportunities for building such spacecraft to multiply assuming the first is successful?
It has a lot of interest right now, and we think it’s the right model that
the government should
be looking at. The Air Force
is now looking for a mission that would fit the operationally responsive space model. We’ve been promoting a defense weather mission. Some of the space environmental sensing systems that are falling off of [the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System]
are of interest to the defense community.
Do small satellites and operationally responsive space-type programs play a role in your classified space business
I can’t talk about that.
Should the United States be doing more to ensure its space assets are protected
I don’t know everything the government does to protect or not protect its space assets. I do think space has always been a free domain to operate in and certainly the visibility of the Chinese anti-satellite test has made people question whether it is safe or not. We rely on space for so many military and commercial purposes. So it’s in our interests as a nation to make sure we can protect those systems if required. But the true nature of the threat and our response is probably beyond what I know.