WASHINGTON — Technical issues encountered during testing and the need to swap out some faulty components have delayed the U.S. Air Force’s first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications satellite and added some $259 million to the program’s overall cost.
Separately, AEHF prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., was given a $9.9 million contract to study extending the program, which currently consists of four satellites. This comes in the wake of the U.S. Air Force’s recent decision to restructure and delay the Transformational Satellite, or T-Sat, communications system, the successor to AEHF.
In a contract announcement Dec. 16, the Pentagon said Lockheed Martin was being awarded a $252 million AEHF contract modification to cover additional testing of the first satellite, which is “undergoing a significant amount of rework on mission critical units due to anomalies.” Lockheed Martin received another $7.2 million Dec. 30 for more thermal vacuum testing on the second AEHF satellite, the Pentagon said.
Lockheed Martin’s schedule margin has been consumed by some late deliveries to its AEHF integration facility, integration challenges encountered during payload and spacecraft testing, and removing and replacing components including a power regulation unit and reaction wheels, company spokesman Steve Tatum said in a Jan. 2 e-mailed response to questions.
The first AEHF satellite previously was expected to launch in the summer or fall of this year, with the second and third following in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The Air Force will have to delay the launch of the first satellite, and possibly the second and third satellites, Tatum said. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, which manages the AEHF program, was unable to respond to questions by press time, spokeswoman LaGina D. Jackson said.
“Overall, the program continues to make solid progress and we have utmost confidence that we will successfully deliver this cutting-edge system and maintain the mission assurance necessary for this critical national security program,” Tatum said.
The AEHF program’s cost grew significantly last year after Congress, concerned about the Air Force’s ability to deliver T-Sat on schedule, directed the service to buy a fourth satellite in the series. Although the third AEHF satellite was expected to cost $939 million, restarting production to build the fourth will cost $2.6 billion, according to a Sept. 30 Pentagon acquisition cost summary. The addition of the fourth satellite brought the total estimated cost of the AEHF program to $9.9 billion, triggering a mandatory recertification of the program by the Pentagon.
Lockheed Martin is competing against Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., to build T-Sat, which has undergone big changes of its own in recent weeks. The Air Force announced in December that it officially was terminating the T-Sat program on which the companies had been working since 2004, and that it would proceed with a scaled back system.
The Air Force intends to meet with industry representatives Jan. 16 prior to releasing a new request for proposals on the revamped system, according to a posting on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. Interested parties must submit a statement of capability to the Air Force by Jan. 23.
The watered-down T-Sat capability, known as Block 10, initially will include five satellites that will begin launching in 2019. Like the previous incarnation of T-Sat, the Block 10 system will include Internet Protocol routing for network management and “new means to communicate with deployed forces on-the-move,” a Dec. 23 Air Force press release said. T-Sat will lose the planned satellite-to-satellite laser links and Ka-band intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, but the Air Force intends to add those capabilities to future increments of the system, the release said.
The Air Force on Dec. 24 extended the Boeing and Lockheed Martin T-Sat studies through the first six months of 2009 at a cost of $75 million each. By the end of 2008, the value of those risk-reduction contracts had reached $650 million apiece.