— The U.S. Air Force’s 2010 budget request for space programs curbs the service’s ambitions in satellite communications with the cancellation of the Transformational Satellite communications system, but it boosts funding geared toward better knowing and interpreting what is going on in Earth orbit.

While the total Air Force budget under the White House’s request to Congress would sink slightly in 2010, from $161.4 billion to $160.5 billion, funding for the service’s space programs would rise by 3 percent, to $11.1 billion.

Recent events have highlighted the Air Force’s need for better space situational awareness, which refers to the ability to monitor and track objects in orbit. The Air Force is requesting $308.1 million next year for space situational awareness systems, $99 million more than was appropriated for 2009. The Air Force has yet to announce specific plans for that money.

In addition to pulling in more data on the space environment, the Air Force needs a new way to analyze and interpret the information, a task assigned to the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base,
The service hopes to accomplish this through a program called JSPOC Mission System, for which the service is seeking $131.3 million in 2010. The system is expected to ingest and analyze data not only from the Air Force’s Space Surveillance Network but also from other sources such as commercial satellite operators and space environment sensors.

In lieu of the $26 billion Transformational Satellite program the Air Force intends to buy additional Advanced Extremely High Frequency secure communications satellites built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Money to launch the first such satellite in late 2010, continued development and testing of the second and third satellites in the series and the purchase of a fourth satellite put total program spending for 2010 at $2.3 billion, making it the most expensive program in the unclassified Air Force space portfolio, budget documents show.

The Air Force has also been directed to purchase additional Wideband Global Satcom satellites manufactured by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems. The budget request includes funding for the on-orbit testing of the second and third satellites in the series, continued production of the fourth, fifth and sixth satellites that are under contract, and long-lead items for a seventh satellite, budget documents show.

The Air Force is requesting $1.3 million for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning system in 2010, $1.3 billion less than previously anticipated due to the deferral of plans to purchase an additional geosynchronous orbiting satellite during the year. SBIRS prime contractor Lockheed Martin has delivered two payloads hosted on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits and is under contract for two geosynchronous satellites that will begin launching in late 2010. The company expects to have the third highly elliptical orbiting payload and third geosynchronous satellite under contract in the coming months; the 2010 budget request fully funds a fourth highly elliptical orbiting payload and long-lead items for a fourth geosynchronous satellite.