SBIRS Concept: Lockheed Martin
Sep 13, 2011 By Amy Butler - aerospace daily and defense report
Though U.S. Air Force officials are hailing the forthcoming launch of a military payload hosted on a commercial satellite, funding could be an obstacle to a future Pentagon satellite infrastructure that relies heavily on hosted payloads for service.
SES-2 is slated to launch Sept. 17 on an Ariane 5 rocket. The satellite, made by Orbital Sciences Corp., will carry the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (Chirp) made by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC).
The project is a “hallmark of cooperation and opportunity” that brought together an “incredible combination of different interests,” says Douglas Loverro, executive director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC).
The payload includes one of four infrared telescopes designed by SAIC under an Air Force program started in the middle of the decade to find an alternative in the event that the performance of Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) prime contractor Lockheed Martin continued to disappoint, threatening to expose a gap in ballistic missile warning.
The government opted to use one of the 2,000 X 2,000-pixel wide-field-of-view staring infrared arrays for experimentation. The concept emerged through a proposal from SES, Orbital (the satellite manufacturer) and SAIC.
In total, the government spent about $216 million developing the sensors, readying the payload and integrating it onto the satellite, Loverro says. Originally, the sensor piece of the project was slated to cost $65 million. That changed to about $82.5 million owing to a one-year delay in the project, says Lt. Col. William McGuffey, director of SMC’s space projects division.
Tip Osterthaler, president and CEO of SES Government Solutions, says Chirp is expected to reach orbit at about 15% of the typical cost for a government payload to be lofted.
Loverro, however, notes that while qualified for space operations, the Chirp payload is not designed to meet the rigorous demands of nuclear hardening and integrated threat-warning and attack-assessment certification required for the Sbirs satellites.
However, with the cost of the first Sbirs and Advanced Extremely High-Frequency satellites at well more than $1 billion, Loverro says he is exploring constellations that provide an alternative to simply buying more of these large spacecraft. AEHF is designed to provide jam-proof communications, including traffic to nuclear forces in the event of a nuclear war.
Loverro suggests, for example, that alternative Sbirs and AEHF fleets could reserve the nuclear-hardened portions of the mission for the basic spacecraft, with hosted payloads providing augmenting data. Both of these missions require hardware in the geosynchronous belt, where many commercial spacecraft operate.
The question, however, is if this alternative approach will prove to be less costly. “If you can’t develop an architecture where the hosted payloads don’t decrease the cost of the rest of the architecture, then they really can’t earn their way onto the plate,” Loverro says.
He says he still has a year of work to do to refine these alternative architecture concepts.
In the meantime, Air Force officials will experiment with Chirp. Initially, the satellite will be inserted at 77 deg. West and eventually shift to 87 deg. West, its final operational slot. The Air Force plans to experiment with Chirp for just more than nine months. The orbital location is situated to provide coverage of infrared events on the West Coast of the U.S. as well as at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.