The new year was not even two weeks old when China stunned the world by successfully testing a kinetic anti-satellite weapon Jan. 11. Ten days later it was hard to tell who was more surprised: the world leaders who almost unanimously decried China’s action or the Chinese leadership, which seemed completely unprepared for the ensuing backlash.
China’s use of a mobile missile to destroy an aging weather satellite created more orbital debris than any previous single event. It also raised questions about China’s intent and the effectiveness of its internal decision-making processes.
As Jeffrey Lewis, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes elsewhere in this issue [“Space and Power in 2007,” Commentary, page 25]: “The most worrisome implication of this event was the lack of concern or miscalculation by China over international reaction to the test. If the Chinese national security apparatus can miscalculate the reaction to a space test, it may make similar miscalculations for other military escapades. Exposing the inadequacies in Chinese decision-making may be the test’s most important result.”
The incident became a major subject of discussion throughout the year. Military officials cited it as proof positive that the United States must improve its ability to know what objects are in space and what their purpose is, a capability known as space situational awareness.
The test played a significant role in Congress’ decision to add more than $100 million for a variety of space situational awareness efforts to the Pentagon’s budget request for 2008.
Meanwhile, arms control advocates urged global leaders to use the incident as the impetus for a treaty that would ban such actions in space, a notion that officials in the Bush administration immediately declared to be off the table.
Military leaders also spent
much of the year discussing their efforts to improve space acquisition.
Numerous U.S. Air Force officials said
they made significant progress in addressing
space acquisition issues in 2007, though they acknowledged
they continue to struggle
with the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), the missile warning program that has come to symbolize the service’s acquisition missteps. The much touted remedy was former Undersecretary of the Air Force Ron Sega’s much touted back-to-basics approach to acquisition, which emphasized adequate budget reserves, improved systems engineering and realistic evaluation of contract bids.
Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs, declined to characterize the Air Force as having “turned the corner” on space acquisition problems during a Dec. 6 interview. However, Payton said
significant progress has been made, and noted that the Air Force
did not have any of its space programs encounter
cost growth in 2007 on the level that would have triggered a mandatory review of alternatives and possible cancellation under the Nunn-McCurdy legislation.
he is particularly proud of the Air Force’s continued streak of more than 54 successful launches of operational satellites.
The 2008 launches included the last Defense Support Program missile warning satellite aboard the first operational heavy-lift launch of Satcom military communications satellite,‘s 4 rocket, as well as the first Wideband Global
Payton noted that he sometimes feels as though he is “turn[ing] over a rock and find[ing] a scorpion” with programs like SBIRS.
While Payton and other officials touted the strong performance of the SBIRS sensor that
currently is operating aboard a classified spacecraft in a highly elliptical orbit, they also uncovered flight software problems during ground testing with the first SBIRS spacecraft designed for a geosynchronous orbit, leading Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne to notify Pentagon acquisition chief John Young in September that the cost will go up and the first launch will be delayed – again.
ORS Office Created
At the insistence of Congress, the Pentagon also established an Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program office in New Mexico in May that will take military needs articulated by U.S. Strategic Command and look for quick solutions. For years the Air Force cut funding for ORS, only to see Congress repeatedly come back and pump small amounts of money into the effort. This year saw the creation of the ORS office and the creation of a dedicated funding line in the federal budget for ORS. The Defense Department’s spending plan for the years 2008-2012 included $410 million for ORS, including $97.1 million in 2008.
Two major satellite contract awards
currently are expected to occur in 2008: the selection of prime contractors for the GPS 3 navigation satellites and the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System. However, the future for the T-Sat effort is unclear, as Pentagon sources say
the program is facing an internal Defense Department reduction to its planned budget request for 2009, and could see its first launch delayed by up to four years from the current target of 2016.
In other significant congressional actions,
Congress effectively terminated the existing Space Radar program, potentially one of the
biggest space programs in history.
The overall spending levels for Space Radar are classified. According to several sources there should be a total of no more than about $150 million available for the program in 2008.
The other major change in space acquisition pushed by Congress was the decision by both the appropriators and the authorizers to force the Air Force to buy a fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite. Congress was concerned that the
T-Sat program, designed to be the successor to AEHF, faced too much technical risk and would launch so late that there would be a reasonable chance of a gap in capabilities
In the missile defense arena, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency conducted successful intercept tests with the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System, the Aegis sea-based interceptor system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, and the Net-Centric Airborne Defense Element during a series of demonstrations beginning in September and running through the end of 2007.
Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, an Alexandria, Va.,-based advocacy group,
noted that some missile defense advocates were concerned when the year began about how the programs in this area would be treated on Capitol Hill with Democrats taking control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. However, missile defense fared well under the Democrats, who approved most of the Missile Defense Agency’s budget request for 2008.
the top missile defense issues in 2008
likely will be the facilities
the United States would like to place in Eastern Europe
to defend Europe and U.S. forces deployed overseas, as well as offering another layer of defense for the United States against any missile launched from Iran, Ellison said.
Victoria Samson, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank, said the United States appears to be having more trouble than it likely expected in selling the concept of the interceptors in Poland and a planned tracking radar in the Czech Republic, to those nations, and that the interceptor site could get caught up in election year politics or simply fall by the wayside as the U.S. government focuses on other priorities.
The launch of the first U.S. Air Force Wideband Global System broadband communications satellite marked a major step in military capabilities. WGS-1 has more bandwidth than the entire fleet of Defense Satellite Communications System
satellites it is intended to replace. That revived the hopes of some military officials who would like to significantly reduce if not downright eliminate their use of commercial satellite communications capacity, which peaked during Operation Iraqi Freedom
when nearly 80 percent of all military satcom in the theater was handed by commercial communication satellites.
Commercial companies have their own plans. Cisco Systems and formalized their partnership in early summer to place an Internet router and laser optical communication links on an Intelsat spacecraft. The Cisco-Intelsat program, Internet Routing in
Space, or IRIS, is an example of what is known in the industry as a hosted payload, one of the new ways large companies want to provide operationally responsive satellite services to the Pentagon.
While satellite operators continued to pursue government business around the world, they also were enjoying the strongest market in years for new satellites, with 2008 also expected to generate more than two-dozen orders for geostationary commercial communication satellites.
In a playback from the 1990s several companies with existing or planned constellations of satellites for mobile communications are raising money to finance new generations of low Earth orbiting satellites.
Though things began to slow late in the year as financial markets tightened, 2007 brought another wave of buyouts, mergers and realignment of equity ownership in much of the industry.
In a complicated deal, GE Capital sold its remaining interest in Global in return for cash and an interest in a number of satellites.
In September Apax partners completed its purchase of Telenor Satellite Services. Loral Space & Communications and Canada’s PSP pension fund completed their acquisition of Telesat Canada in October, the same month Abertis Telecom of Spain agreed to purchase a 28.4 percent stake in Hispasat.
Satellite operators also saw launch prices rise and the number of available launch opportunities shrink after both the Sea Launch Zenit and Russia’s Proton rocket suffered launch accidents. While has returned to launching spacecraft, Sea Launch was stymied by high seas as it attempted to resume operations in November, but its next launch is expected within weeks.
NASA’s year on the launch front was fairly successful as the agency successfully launched three shuttles and a number of science mission lofted by expendable launchers.
Europe also made major commitments to space exploration in 2007 with the drafting of a new European Space policy and an agreement in December by the European Space Agency to commit 1.5 billion euros to early work on a Mars rover program.
Europe also finally agreed to a funding scheme for the Galileo satellite navigation project that did not include financing by industry.
In Asia, the launch of lunar missions by Japan and China – soon to be followed in 2008 by India – marked a new chapter in space exploration as more countries develop the launch systems and satellites needed to leave Earth’s orbit.
While NASA’s budget and ambitions remain larger than those three put together, the agency’s budget battles in 2007 were tough ones that still have not been resolved.
NASA officials knew money would be tight for 2007 before the year even began.
By late December 2006, the incoming Democratic majority announced its intent to pass a year
long continuing resolution rather than waste time tackling a pile of unfinished spending bills. For NASA and most other federal agencies that meant getting by at their 2006 spending levels, which in NASA’s case fell about $500 million below its 2007 request.
NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, which had been counting on a roughly $900 million increase, absorbed most of the shortfall.
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a Senate panel in late February that as a result of the budget situation the agency could no longer guarantee a 2014 debut of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its Ares 1 launcher. The best NASA could reasonably expect to do, he said, was field Orion by March 2015, some four and a half years after the space shuttle is expected to conduct its last flight.
By summer, Griffin would have more bad news on the exploration front: in order to keep Orion and Ares on track, the agency
had to scrap plans to follow the 2008 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter with a robotic lander mission. That decision did not sit well with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who inserted a provision in the NASA spending bill requiring the agency to continue funding the mission, which would be led by the Huntsville, Ala.-based Marshall Space Flight Center. That spending bill, however, remained in limbo as the year came to a close.
While money was tight for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and the rest of NASA for 2007, the agency managed to stick to its schedule for awarding contracts for the design and development of the Ares 1 rocket.
In July, NASA finalized a $1.2 billion sole-source contract with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., for the J-2X engine that will power the upper stages of the Ares 1 rocket and its planned heavy-lift follow-on, the Ares 5. The following month, NASA signed a $1.8 billion sole-source contract with AlliantTechSystems for development of the Ares 1 main stage, a larger version of the solid-rocket boosters the company builds for the space shuttle program.
Also in August, NASA awarded a $515 million contract to Houston-based Boeing Space Exploration for production of the Ares 1 upper stage. The final piece of the Ares stack, the avionics ring that will guide the rocket in flight, was put under contract Dec. 12 with a nearly $800 million award to Houston-based Boeing Space Exploration.
Meanwhile, NASA got off three of four space shuttle missions planned for the year, conducting some of its most challenging spacewalks to date as it works toward completing assembly the international space station ahead of the shuttle’s 2010 retirement. The launch of the European Space Agency’ Columbus module, one of the most long-awaited shuttle missions, however, was postponed until January due to a troublesome fuel sensor glitch.
In science, the big story of the year was the installation of veteran principal investigator Alan Stern as the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Stern took the
the Science Mission Directorate in April vowing to get more out of NASA’s flat science budget putting an abrupt stop to what he called “management by checkbook.”
He used the threat of cancellation to get the Kepler space telescope mission to all-but-eliminate its latest cost overrun, in part by getting prime contractor Ball Aerospace to make financial concessions.
Stern also played hardball with the $1.7 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, kicking several over-budget instruments off the spacecraft and only later letting two of them back on after their builders found a way to get the job done without additional money from NASA.
Stern and his team also put a Mars sample return mission back on the table for the decade ahead and challenged the planetary science community to start thinking of new mid-sized missions that would be enabled if NASA supplied a new type of plutonium-fueled radioisotope power system to provide a steady source of electricity for spacecraft bound for destinations where sunlight is in short supply.
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate successfully launched four separate missions in 2007. Three were launched aboard Boeing/United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rockets: the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms, or THEMIS; the Mars Phoenix Lander; and the Dawn mission to orbit Ceres and Vesta, two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt.
The agency also launched the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesophere mission on an Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket.
Over the summer, NASA reached a decision to phase out use of the Delta 2 around the end of the decade and redirect its launch traffic to Atlas 5 and Delta 4 unless cheaper alternatives emerge. NASA based its decision on steep forecasted price hikes for the Delta 2 once the U.S. Air Force takes its leave of the program as soon as next year.
Space News staff writers Brian Berger and Colin Clark contributed from Washington, Jeremy Singer from Boston and Peter B. de Selding from Paris. space.com staff writer TariqMalik con
tributed from New York.