ORLANDO, Fla. — U.S. Strategic Command is considering a follow-on satellite as one of several options to replace a one-of-a-kind tactical surveillance satellite expected to reach the end of its design life by 2017.
The Operationally Responsive Space-1 (ORS-1) satellite launched in 2011 and circles the globe every 90 minutes providing visible and infrared imagery to U.S. forces operating in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
The satellite provides “mission support” for various combatant commanders by allowing military leaders in the field to rapidly task the satellite for imagery. In 2013, for example, U.S. Central Command tasked ORS-1’s operators to gather imagery of a CH-53 helicopter that crashed in a remote location.
ORS-1, however, is not the only surveillance satellites providing military commanders with imagery of the region.
In a response to questions from SpaceNews, Army Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command, said the Defense Department has been using multiple, classified payloads to meet some imagery requirements for military leaders in the Middle East.
“That need has since been met not only by ORS-1, but also by other assets, which cannot be identified due to operational sensitivities,” O’Donnell said. “Once ORS-1 reaches end of life, USCENTCOM’s need will continue to be met by these other assets.”
But O’Donnell said that Strategic Command is considering a series of options to replace ORS-1, including a follow-on satellite. Leaders at Strategic Command hope to make a decision before October, he said.
“A follow-on ORS-1 capability is one of several options being considered by USSTRATCOM, which continually studies innovative ways to make the nation’s national security space enterprise more resilient,” he said. “It is impossible to say now whether or not a follow-on capability will include an ORS-1 gap-filler.”
The Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, built and launched the the ORS-1 satellite in under three years using a spacecraft bus supplied by what is now Orbital ATK and a sensor supplied by Goodrich Corp.
Orbital launched ORS-1 in June 2011 from Wallops Island, Virginia, aboard a Minotaur 1 rocket.