Brig. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski
Deputy Commander, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center
s the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center takes a more rigorous approach to acquiring
new space systems, the additional scrutiny
lead to delays in launching satellites, as the service recently found with its next-generation missile warning constellation, according to Brig. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, deputy commander of the Los Angeles-based organization.
The more intensive testing helped
uncover software issues with the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellites that could have potentially caused the satellites to fail on orbit had the
problem gone unnoticed, Pawlikowski said. The rigorous approach is part of the so-called back-to-basics strategy that began with Ronald Sega shortly after he took over as undersecretary of the Air Force in 2005, and has continued since he left the service Aug. 31.
SMC officials say the additional caution that came with the back-to-basics approach also has played a role
in slowing down the schedule for awarding contracts on
the next generation of GPS and secure communications satellites. The extra time was needed so
center officials could
examine the reams of extra data generated when they extended the competition between
teams led by Lockheed Martin and Boeing to get the kind of information now central to the back-to-basics approach, Pawlikowski said.
, who previously served as commander of the military satellite communications systems wing and program director for the Airborne Laser, talked about these issues during a Nov. 28 interview with Space News Staff Writer Jeremy Singer.
The Air Force had previously given specific dates for awarding the GPS 3 and Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System contracts, but officials are now just saying 2008 what’s happening here?
These are pretty important source selections. There are a lot of things that we’re sorting though. There are no major show stoppers; we’re just making sure that we’re doing due diligence.
Some of it is a matter of not wanting to commit and build false expectation for a date. Some of it is linked to back
basics. In both cases with GPS 3 and T-Sat, we have a lot more detailed information through the additional work that we have done with the contractors that is part of the back-to-basics approach, so we have a lot more information on which to base a selection.
In the cases of the recent space programs that were awarded under the Total System Performance Responsibility approach, we did not have nearly as much specific detail.
We have a lot more fidelity than a couple of years ago when we took a more hands-off approach during the acquisition reform era.
Has the back-to-basics approach to acquisition had any effect on the SBIRS program?
The flight software issue with SBIRS was discovered as part of integration and test activity. None of us likes to face schedule delays and doing rework, but in many ways, this is a good example of the positive aspects of the rigor reintroduced on all of our programs.
has caused some adjustments in the flow for testing since the software was not ready when originally hoped, but overall, it’s a good thing to tackle it now rather than on orbit. That’s the whole focus on mission assurance – find the things before launch so you can deliver the capability as promised.
What’s your current level of confidence in the SBIRS effort?
We feel pretty comfortable that we understand what needs to be done as we go forward. We have made huge progress this year on reducing risk – if you compare where we are now versus where we were in the beginning of 2007, our confidence is much higher.
We’re very happy with data
that we’re seeing from the SBIRS sensor in highly elliptical orbit, which is far exceeding expectations in terms of quality. That performance is expected to follow with the satellites in geosynchronous orbit. From our perspective, we have higher confidence in the ability to deliver on SBIRS than we did a year ago, but we’ll continue to keep our nose to the grindstone and focus on ensuring mission success.
The SBIRS sensor in highly elliptical orbit had issues that caused the Air Force to shut it down for several days earlier this year. H
as the Air Force had any problems with the sensor since then?
We have not had any serious showstoppers. We’re very cautious when first checking out a new payload. When we find anything that comes up that’s not nominal, we want to be safe and sort through them before continuing, so shutdowns represent cautiousness going forward so that we can understand the payload’s performance, as opposed to continuing on with a potential risk.
Is it a given that the Air Force will have to take money from T-Sat to fund a fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite?
the Space and Missile Systems Center do in the near
term to improve the Air Force’s ability to monitor objects in space?
We’re very active in working with the officials at the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on the issue of developing rapid prototypes of capabilities that can improve space situational awareness.
Our work in this area over the next year or so will include continued development of modifications for
off-the-shelf tools that can better integrate data from existing space surveillance sensors and assist with the work that takes place on the ground to track, report and understand what is happening in space, and provide that picture to Maj. Gen. William Shelton, the commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, and Gen. Kevin Chilton, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
What kind of options is the Air Force looking at for space launch to eventually replace the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family?
We were very, very happy to see the first Delta 4 heavy-lift rocket successfully launch the last Defense Support Program satellite recently. We had a significant amount of instrumentation on the rocket, and have a team that will be reviewing data from the launch for the next several months to get a better understanding of the rocket’s performance. We’re also working very hard with the United Launch Alliance team to complete the transition to working with the joint venture and put the right contractual relationships in place.
For the future, we have an effort to reinvigorate the developmental planning process across the Space and Missile Systems Center that began when Lt. Gen. Mike Hamel took over as commander. We have a group of folks in that department who are looking to the future and trying to match up requirements with the technology that may become available for all of our systems, and present options to decision makers. It’s a disciplined approach to marrying the requirements to a good technical architecture.
One of the first products that the team is working on is a space-lift roadmap. This could potentially include reusable elements. A partially reusable launcher is not a program yet by any means, but we’re working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Space Command to explore some concepts.