U.S. Defense Department
intelligence community have drafted a new approach to the Space Radar surveillance system that initially features smaller and far less complex spacecraft than previously planned, according to a Pentagon official


The original Space Radar, a joint U.S. Air Force-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) program designed to provide high-resolution imagery and mapping information, along with the ability to detect moving targets on the ground, was canceled this year amid longstanding congressional concerns over its cost. The
military and intelligence communities
are evaluating new approaches in a congressionally mandated study that was due to Capitol Hill March 1.


Josh Hartman, senior advisor to John Young, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told Space News
April 10 that the new approach will focus first on relatively low-cost satellites featuring readily available technologies, deferring what he described as the “exquisite capability” prized by intelligence customers for a later time. In the meantime, the moving target indication, or MTI, capability, which distinguished the Space Radar from the NRO’s current generation of classified radar satellites and was sought after by the military, also will be deferred.


The plan calls for setting aside money to continue working on the technologies that would enable satellite-based radars to detect movement on the ground, much as airborne radars are able to do today.


“Now that the requirements community has indicated we don’t need MTI right now, we are
looking to invest
that money on less complex systems that provide a mid-range capability much sooner than we would have on the Space Radar program of record,” Hartman said.


Speaking to reporters April 8 at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said Young was concerned that trying to incorporate MTI on Space Radar in the near term would have driven up the system’s cost while compromising other capabilities.


“What I think … Young has done a little bit is send them back to concept development to get one more round of technological development before we can get [MTI]
to the warfighter,” Wynne said. “…I would say that we were looking at 2016 to 2018 and now we’re in the 2020 decade.”


Including MTI on Space Radar was a
bone of contention between the intelligence community and the military
. It
also was the primary driver of a prohibitively expensive constellation that was to feature nine satellites


Hartman said constellation size under the new approach has not yet been determined.


Hartman said investment in very highly capable systems will occur. He said Young supported issuing an unclassified broad area announcement to industry by the end of the year “that will create competition and lead to an exquisite capability.”


Perhaps the biggest difference between the old effort and the new one is cost. The previous system was expected to cost in the tens of billions of dollars. Early projections peg the cost of the initial satellites under the new approach at less than $200 million apiece, Hartman said. These satellites, he said, would be similar to other radar satellites now being deployed internationally, including Canada’s Radarsat-2 and Israel’s TecSAR, he said.


In addition to the smaller, lighter and less technologically risky satellites envisioned in
the new plan, the Pentagon and intelligence community
are considering buying
radar data from Germany and Israel
to supplement U.S.
satellites, Hartman said. Israel’s TecSAR satellite was launched aboard an Indian rocket Jan. 21, while Germany has two radar satellite systems: the civil-commercial TerraSar-X satellite and the military SAR-Lupe constellation.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., have been working on Space Radar designs under Air Force study contracts and were expected to compete head
head for the prime contract. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Linthicum, Md., was the radar sensor provider to both teams.


If the revamped plan ultimately is approved, it could provide new opportunities for companies like Raytheon, which had hoped to get on one of the Space Radar teams as the sensor supplier. The company has refined its technology using internal funds over the past few years and sees the revamped program as a chance to make that investment pay off, said Brian Arnold, vice president of space systems at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif.


Northrop Grumman Space Technology, meanwhile, has an arrangement with Israel Aerospace Industries, builder of the TecSAR satellite, to market the TecSAR design to U.S. government customers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England have both been briefed on the new approach at least twice in the last month and are supportive of the concept, Hartman said. But he cautioned that the plan still requires approval by the
Deputies Advisory Working Group, led by England and U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Jeremy Singer and Turner Brinton contributed to this article from Colorado Springs, Colo.