May 12, 2009

Air Force To Acquire Canceled Satellite Program Equipment

The U.S. Air Force announced on Monday it is looking to salvage for future use any government-owned property or ground stations developed for a canceled satellite communications program, Reuters reported.

The Air Force is working closely with Lockheed Martin and Boeing to "harvest" any equipment from the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program.

The Air Force had already spent $2.5 billion during two to three years of initial developmental work on the TSAT program, and hopes to use some of the technologies developed for TSAT in future programs, according to Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs.

Payton told reporters the program's original mission to provide follow-up on protected satellite communications for selected U.S. government communications, including the president's ability to order a nuclear attack, remained "absolutely critical."

"We're never going to be out of that business," Payton said. "We're not going to back away from that job."

Both Lockheed and Boeing had been awarded risk reduction contracts to ensure that the technologies involved were mature once the government was ready to award the TSAT contract to one or the other.

Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the program's cancellation after it had already been scaled back from its initial ambitious goals.

The Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites, built by Lockheed, and Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites, built by Boeing, will likely be purchased by the Air Force.

Payton said the Air Force is working hard to collect what is rightfully the government's, so that they could do competent planning for potential future evolutions of other systems.

The Air Force will seek control over everything from intellectual property developed under its pre-development contracts with Lockheed and Boeing, to ground stations to networking equipment, Payton said.

Space programs make up an $11.1 billion piece of the Pentagon's fiscal 2010 budget proposal, a 3 percent rise from fiscal 2009.

The protection of U.S. satellites in space, and space situational awareness"”efforts to better track objects in space, predict possible collisions and understand any problems that arise"”will be an increasing area of focus in the near future, according to Payton.

Also a part of the budget proposal is $7 billion for satellites, including $1.8 billion for the AEHF satellite program and $1.4 billion for launching satellites into space.

Some $308 million will be set aside for space situational awareness systems.

Payton said the Air Force expected to make decisions within the next year on how to meet growing demand for space-based radar, and would continue with additional AEHF and WGS procurement.

A congressionally mandated space-posture review being done in tandem with the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review will address broad issues associated with space programs.

Lockheed's AEHF program experienced a disappointing "significant number of piece part failures" on its first satellite, but those issues had been resolved for the second satellite, Payton said.

Thermal vacuum testing is due to begin soon and should be ready for launch in September 2010.

The Global Positioning System follow-on satellites are currently in development and the Air Force plans to award a contract this summer to either Northrop Grumman Corp or Raytheon Co for a next-generation ground control system.

Officials said another pre-development contract is expected for the so-called space fence, a system of ground-based radars and sensors that track objects in space.

Lockheed, Northrop and Raytheon are all competing for the project.

The Air Force is also expected to have a critical design review this summer of SAT-1, a small satellite requested by U.S. Central Command to do low earth orbit infrared imaging.


Image 1: Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite

Image 2: Wideband Global SATCOM Satellite


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