Sierra Nevada, Northrop Grumman Tapped To Build Radar Satellite for ORS Office

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WASHINGTON — Sierra Nevada and Northrop Grumman have been chosen to build the radar imaging payload and satellite platform, respectively, for a U.S. Defense Department “operational prototype” mission.

Louisville, Colo.-based Sierra Nevada Space Systems was awarded a $42 million contract and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems was awarded a $44 million contract to provide hardware for the Modular Space Vehicle (MSV) program being managed by the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office. Three other firms — ATK Space Systems, Miltec Corp. and PnP Innovations Inc. — also received contracts that establish them as preferred hardware suppliers for the ORS Office’s Rapid Response Space Works facility in Albuquerque, N.M., nicknamed Chileworks. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., issued the contracts on behalf of the ORS Office.

One of the ORS Office’s primary goals is to maintain the capability to build and test satellites on short order to augment or replace a number of different types of military satellites. By 2015, the Chileworks facility is expected to be able to get a satellite ready for launch within one week of call-up.

Ames Research Center in July contracted with Millennium Engineering and Integration Co. of Chantilly, Va., to serve as the lead systems integrator at Chileworks. Millennium and partner Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., have about 10 people working to define the practices and procedures for operating the shop, ORS Office Director Peter Wegner said in a Nov. 17 interview.

For Chileworks’ first development effort, the MSV program, the shop will purchase all the hardware needed to build a prototype synthetic aperture radar satellite. All of the parts will be warehoused at Chileworks by 2015, and Millennium will attempt to assemble, integrate and test the satellite within seven days, Wegner said. The satellite will be launched, Wegner said, but a launch vehicle selection is still a couple of years away.

In aerospace parlance, early science and technology demonstrators are often given “X” designations, and operational prototypes that are close to production-ready are given “Y” designations. The MSV satellite will be akin to a Y-series aircraft, Wegner said.

“We view this as an operational prototype,” Wegner said. “This is not an operational acquisition.”

Sierra Nevada was awarded the Multi-Mission Modular Payload Development task order for MSV. Along with subcontractor Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., Sierra Nevada will develop a small synthetic aperture radar payload. The work also includes developing open standards for many parts of the payload that will make future ORS satellite payloads cheaper and faster to develop, said Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada’s corporate vice president for space systems.

“That’s the multi-mission part of it,” Sirangelo said in a Nov. 17 interview. “Not everything can be reused, but if you’re smart about your design architecture, you’ll be able to take the efforts developed under task one and use much of it for tasks two, three and four.

“The payload is probably going to be unique for every mission but the environment that it exists in and how it connects to the other parts of the satellite is one where we’re trying to produce as much commonality as possible.”

Northrop Grumman was awarded the Multi-Mission Modular Bus Development task order, for which it will develop and build the MSV spacecraft bus in 24 months, said Steve Hixon, vice president for space and directed energy systems within Northrop Grumman’s advanced programs and technology division. Northrop Grumman will work with subcontractor Design Net Engineering of Golden, Colo., to develop the plug-and-play spacecraft avionics system that will fly the MSV satellite and possibly future ORS satellites as well, Hixon said. The satellite bus will be assembled in the Albuquerque facility of Northrop Grumman’s other subcontractor, Applied Technology Associates.

A new satellite bus had to be commissioned for the MSV mission because the synthetic aperture radar payload requires more power than most commercially available satellite platforms can provide, Wegner said. Other available platforms were for the most part developed with proprietary architectures, something the ORS Office is going out of its way to avoid, he said.

“You have to get down to the geek level of software architectures and hardware architectures to understand it, but those systems that we’ve developed to date have really been kind of proprietary architectures,” Wegner said. “They’re modular, but they’re really not open.”