Vice President and General Manager, Surveillance and Navigation
One of the biggest issues keeping Rick Ambrose up at night is getting the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High satellite ready for launch. Ambrose has intimate familiarity with the SBIRS High effort, having been brought in to sort out problems with the ground segment as vice president and deputy program manager for the missile warning effort from 2002 through 2003.
Ambrose says the stint with the SBIRS High program gave him a better understanding both of the technology involved with the system, as well as its importance to the military. Lockheed Martin is currently on track to solve the flight software problems that cropped up in early 2007 and have the first satellite ready for launch in late 2009, though the date could move further out due to matters beyond the company’s control, he said.
Other items on Ambrose’s agenda include dealing with last minute issues on
the GPS 3 competition, which is expected to conclude with a contract award to either Lockheed Martin or Boeing Co. in early April,
and exploring new business opportunities under
the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) effort.
Ambrose talked about his agenda during a recent interview with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.
When will you feel comfortable that you will not run into further problems with SBIRS High?
Given the history of the program, probably once the first satellite is launched and on orbit. But once we clear testing of the integrated spacecraft in the thermal vacuum, which is scheduled for early next year, we’ll feel pretty comfortable.
With that said, we’re not going to take our eye off the ball. We have brought in extra senior systems engineering experts to serve as additional sets of eyes, and the Aerospace Corp. also has
brought in extra people to make sure that nothing is left unattended.
In addition to the Air Force colonel and Lockheed Martin official who serve as program managers for SBIRS High, we have added a team focused exclusively on getting the first satellite ready for launch. That team features an Air Force colonel, and officials from the Aerospace Corp. and Lockheed Martin.
Do you feel your performance on the SBIRS High program is being held against you in competitions for new contracts?
Everyone has good programs in their portfolios, and some challenging ones with issues. We have to put SBIRS High in our past performance volumes, address what happened, what we’ve learned, and how we can prevent it from happening again in the future. It will go into consideration on new programs.
When do you expect to launch the first SBIRS High satellite?
We’re driving towards a December 2009 launch. However, the Air Force could choose to set a date like April 2010 or some time later in order to incorporate more schedule margin and ensure the quality of the satellite. We will be working to have the satellite ready for late 2009, but the launch may have to take place later as the Air Force sets its manifest for the range.
Are you interested in developing the satellites that may follow the SBIRS High program?
We’re focused on the first satellite right now, but I think there is an evolutionary path to integrate new technology if the government wanted to do that. There is a path from what we’re doing today with the SBIRS scanning and staring sensor, and the single staring sensor envisioned for the future.
We wouldn’t do it on the first or second SBIRS satellites, but if the government wanted, we could include advanced focal plane technology on the third or fourth satellite for experimental purposes. Northrop Grumman, which is responsible for the satellite’s payload, has taken a preliminary look at doing that, but there has been no decision to do so yet.
also may be some opportunities to make evolutionary improvements to the SBIRS ground system, as the government did with the Defense Support Program, where it found new ways to use the data over the years.
When might the government pick a prime contractor to build the Space Radar satellites?
It’s not likely to happen before 2011. We’re working with the government to propose several options for the concept of operations and acquisition approach. I can’t even imagine what it might look like at this point.
Is Lockheed Martin having any trouble convincing the Defense Department
that it can play a role in ORS, given its heritage with large, expensive satellites?
No. We’re not having any issues convincing our customers what we can do here. We’d like to help shape ORS. A lot of folks equate ORS with small satellites, and we’re starting to see our customers rethink that. Our approach is to help our customer solve problems, whether the solution is a larger spacecraft with multiple payloads, or a small satellite.
Including the constellation, we’ve built about 150 small satellites. That includes planetary missions, science missions and small experimental satellites for the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Those science satellites were usually built within a three-year time frame. They have a narrow window for launch, so we have to hit that point. That requires a responsive program plan. If you look at GPS, we have GPS 2RM satellites in storage on the ground at Cape Canaveral ready to launch on short notice, so that has given us further experience with responsive operations.
Our work on the GPS program also included incorporating the experimental L5 signal payload on short notice for the Air Force in order to reserve spectrum space, which is another example of responsive operations.
What are some of the ORS business opportunities that you are eyeing?
We’re definitely interested in ORSSat-1 and -2.
The military has talked about buying additional copies of our XSS-11 satellite to use for space situational awareness, but we haven’t received an order yet.
We’re also looking at some classified opportunities in this area that could lead to the purchase of around two satellites.
Do you see any other space situational awareness, or offensive and defensive counterspace business opportunities in the near future?
There are, but most are classified.
How much classified work are you doing today?
The classified portion of our business is significant. I don’t want to get into percentages, but I see it staying pretty steady.
Do you see any downside to the U.S. Air Force’s “back-to-basics” approach to space acquisition?
The first major program under back to basics would be GPS 3. It’s hard to see a downside. It does create a natural tension between wanting a very reliable, predictable execution of a program versus adding new capabilities faster, but if you don’t start a program right and can’t meet the milestones, it’s an academic discussion.
I think the Air Force is right on target with GPS 3 and back to basics. You can get the warfighter a new capability while not trying to solve everything right away, and then add new capabilities through spiral development or block changes. It’s kind of like what we did years ago on space programs. You get a production line working, and then add capabilities, as we did with GPS 2R and GPS 2RM, and the L5 signal that we added to GPS 2RM.