Military Space Quarterly. Credit: SpacNews

U.S. Air Force Considers Expanded Role for Resilient ORS Office

Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan
Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz

The U.S. Air Force is contemplating an expanded role for the rapid-response space development shop it proposed shuttering as recently as last year, but the service has yet to identify how it plans to fund the office beyond next year.

Maj. Gen. Marty Whelan, director of space operations for the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff, said the service is considering having the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office take the lead in developing next-generation replacements for satellites currently used for space surveillance and weather monitoring.

Whelan spoke with reporters here Feb. 6, four days after the Air Force released a 2016 budget request that includes $6.5 million for the ORS Office. That office was created to develop and deploy space capabilities to plug gaps or address emerging military needs. See Full Story.

U.S. Air Force Planning New Missile Warning Sensor Demonstration

SBIRS GEO 2. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The U.S. Air Force, which is developing an experimental tactical missile warning sensor slated for launch late next year, has unveiled tentative plans to follow that up with a strategic sensor demo that would launch in 2019 or 2020.

The experimental staring sensor would provide near-immediate notification of strategic missile launches, the Air Force said in documents accompanying its 2016 budget request. Whether the service moves ahead with the demonstration will depend on the recommendations from an ongoing analysis of alternatives for its future missile warning satellite constellation, the documents said.

The Air Force’s current-generation missile warning constellation, known as the Space Based Infrared System, ultimately will consist of four satellites in geosynchronous orbit and infrared sensors hosted aboard two classified satellites in highly elliptical orbit. The geosynchronous satellites carry scanning sensors that cover large areas and staring sensors that focus on smaller swaths of territory to provide more-immediate warnings of launches. See Full Story

5 New Space Programs on DARPA’s Agenda, But Funding Down

Phoenix DARPA
DARPA’s Phoenix. Credit: DARPA
DARPA’s Phoenix. Credit: DARPA

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hopes to start as many as five new space development programs next year in areas including space threat awareness and satellite propulsion technology.

The agency’s total budget request for space-related activities is about $126 million for fiscal year 2016. Despite the new starts, that is about $53 million less than the agency received from lawmakers in 2015 and about $43 million less than the agency expected to spend on space programs a year ago.

The decrease reflects the drawdown of two long-running programs, one to develop a low-cost, airborne satellite launching system and another that aims to improve space surveillance, budget documents said. See Full Story

U.S. Air Force Hedging Against Further GPS 3 Ground Segment Delays

GPS 3 satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin
GPS 3 satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The U.S. Air Force is growing increasingly concerned that the $1.6 billion ground system for its next-generation GPS satellites will not be ready when needed and is putting a backup plan in motion.

In a notice of contract action posted Feb. 11 on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Air Force said it will purchase a temporary ground system capability for its GPS 3 satellites if delays on the system currently being developed by Raytheon continue. Specifically, the service is worried about its ability to integrate the first GPS 3 satellite, scheduled to launch in 2016, into the existing constellation.

Under the contingency plan, the Air Force would negotiate with GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver to modify the existing GPS ground system to work with the next-generation satellites. The Air Force said it believes Lockheed Martin is the only company capable of performing the work, but the notice nonetheless solicited responses from other companies that believe they can do the job. See Full Story

Germany To Invest in French Recon Satellite for Access to Full Constellation

The Optical Space Component, or CSO, satellite. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space

France’s long search for a European partner and co-investor in its next-generation optical reconnaissance satellite system has paid off with the agreement by Germany to help finance a third satellite in return for access to the full three-satellite system, the head of the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, said Feb. 9.

In a press briefing here, Laurent Collet-Billon said the various protocols needed for the agreement to take force are all but completed, and that Germany would be paying a sizable percentage of the cost of a third Optical Space Component, or CSO, satellite, to be built in France to French specifications.

Collet-Billion also reiterated the French military’s position that the ballistic-missile work now done by Airbus Defence and Space would not be transferred into the new Airbus Safran Launchers space launch joint venture anytime soon, for security reasons. See Full Story