The U.S. Air Force will consider choosing a company other than Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build the fifth, sixth and seventh Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellites, the service announced Sept. 14.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the troubled program, under contract to deliver four geostationary satellites, the first of which will be ready to launch no sooner than spring 2011. The company has delivered two SBIRS payloads hosted aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits and is under contract to deliver two more.

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center intends to issue a request for proposals by the end of the year seeking contractors that could potentially build the fifth, sixth and seventh SBIRS satellites that would be identical to the fourth satellite being built by Lockheed Martin, according to a posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website. If production of the three satellites is approved, a contract will be awarded in late 2011, the posting said.