COLORADO Springs, Colo. — The U.S. Air Force intends to release a broad agency announcement this spring seeking potential commercial options to launch an experimental satellite that is nearing completion but currently is without a ride to orbit, a service official said.
A piggyback ride on a commercial mission is one of a number of options for launching the second Space Test Program-Standard Interface Vehicle (STP-SIV), known as STPSat-3, said Air Force Col. Carol P. Welsch, commander of the Space Development Group at the Space Development and Test Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. Another option is piggybacking on a government mission, she said.
STP-SIV prime contractor Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., has completed construction of the satellite platform and has begun integrating four payloads, including a module designed to host various space situational awareness sensors and a pair of space environment sensors. The STPSat-3 is expected to be fully integrated by November.
The SPT-SIV program was initiated in 2006 to develop a platform with standardized interfaces to accommodate a wide variety of experimental payloads. Ball could build as many as six vehicles, which weigh roughly 180 kilograms — including up to 70 kilograms of payload — under the contract. STP-SIV payloads are selected from a prioritized list created each year by the Pentagon’s Air Force-managed Space Experiments Review Board.
The STP-SIV platform is designed to launch on a variety of small rockets and also can be carried by the secondary payload adapter ring that flies on some missions of the Air Force’s workhorse Atlas 5 and4 rockets, Welsch said April 12 during a press briefing here at the National Space Symposium.
The Air Force envisions standardized spacecraft, in which payloads must be designed to the platform’s weight and power accommodations — not the other way around — carrying operational payloads in the future, Welsch said. The idea is to be able to field space capabilities quickly while keeping unique development engineering to a minimum, thus keeping costs down.
The first STP-SIV satellite, STPSat-2, was launched in November 2010 and is meeting all performance expectations, Welsch said. The satellite is carrying a relay transponder for data collected by ocean buoys and a space phenomenology sensor.
David Kaufman, STP-SIV program manager at Ball, said construction of the STPSat-2 platform was completed five months after the company was authorized to begin the work; for STPSat-3, that period was reduced to 47 days, not including payload integration. He said construction of the STPSat-3 platform began before the payloads had been selected, demonstrating the flexibility of the hardware.
Kaufman said STPSat-2 was built at a cost of about $50 million, whereas STPSat-3 cost $30 million.