Three in Orbit – Three Readied for Ops
MONS Correspondent Marty Kauchak files this end-of-the-day report from the Space and Missile Defense (SMD) Symposium, Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The US Air Force’s Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) is a complete system. It includes a combination of GEO (Geosynchronous Earth Orbit) satellites and hosted payloads in Highly Elliptical Orbit and ground elements responsible for satellite telemetry tracking & commanding, mission planning and mission data processing. Tom McCormick, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Overhead Persistent Infrared Systems, recalled SBIRS GEO-1 was launched in 2011 and SBIRS GEO-2 was launched in 2013. “Both satellites have been providing ‘eye-watering’ infrared data which enhances our military’s ability to detect missile launches, supports ballistic missile defense, expands technical intelligence gathering, and bolsters situational awareness on the battlefield,” he added.
SBIRS GEO-Flight 3 was launched on January 20, 2017. This March, “we announced the satellite sent its first images back down to Earth, a milestone known as ‘first light’,” the industry subject matter expert further pointed out.
Three satellites are being readied for operation: SBIRS GEO-Flight 4 is largely complete and tentatively scheduled to launch on 18 January 2018; SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6 satellites are presently in production and on track for delivery in the 2020 and 2021 timeframe.
Modernisation is another programme tenet. According to McCormick, in 2015, the Air Force accepted Lockheed Martin’s proposition to modernise the service’s two newest infrared surveillance and missile warning satellites – GEO-5 and GEO-6 – at no additional cost to the existing fixed-price contract. He continued, “The fifth and sixth SBIRS GEO satellites will now be based on Lockheed Martin’s modernised A2100 bus. The modernised A2100 is a Lockheed Martin internally-funded, multi-year modernization effort, which will update the satellite’s platform, improving system affordability and resiliency, while also adding the flexibility to use future payloads. In May, SBIRS GEO-5/6 completed its Space Vehicle Critical Design Review and the satellites are on track for delivery to the Air Force in the 2020 and 2021 timeframe.”
Asked what new US DoD requirements and missions Lockheed Martin is responding to in the newer GEO satellites, McCormick replied, “It is more appropriate for the Air Force to provide answers to questions about more specific mission details.” He continued, “That said, the Secretary of the Air Force and other military officials have made their thoughts known about future requirements for all military space satellites very clear. The US military is looking for the greatest capability and resiliency at an affordable price, and with agile acquisition, development, and delivery cycles. We work closely with our customers to understand their mission and provide affordable options for achieving these goals.”
Accordingly, Lockheed Martin’s systems are designed to evolve as technology and mission requirements change, with the company investing its own Internal Research and Development funding to develop new and flexible capabilities for emerging threats. Further, Lockheed Martin continues to leverage block buys, streamline activities, invest in innovative production techniques, and reduce costs to achieve those goals.
“Also, it’s important to note, in 2016, for the first time, infrared data from SBIRS was made available for new military and civilian users at the Air Force’s Remote Sensing Data Lab in Boulder, Colorado,” the company programme executive remarked.
McCormick also emphasised: “while SBIRS’ primary mission is strategic missile warning, the system can support a wide range of research and development projects across the field of remote sensing, which is the monitoring, observing and gathering of information on the Earth and atmosphere from space. SBIRS uses powerful overhead sensors that collect and transmit significant amounts of infrared data. By giving researchers access to this data, the Air Force’s objective is for them to find new, innovative uses for improving situational awareness—whether it is for tactical military missions, natural disasters or even forest fires.”
Given Lockheed Martin’s prowess in the military sector, McCormick was asked for instances of “cross pollination” – where his company is using efficiencies, best practices and technologies from its other military programs in its GEO satellite programme. He again pointed out: “These newest infrared surveillance and missile warning/missile defence satellites, known as SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6, will be based on Lockheed Martin’s modernised A2100 spacecraft, a technology refresh to the flight-proven bus that is the foundation for more than 50 satellites in orbit today.”
And at no additional cost to the existing 2014 fixed-price, block-buy contract for SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6 – which alone saved the Air Force more than $1 billion – Lockheed Martin is providing an update that improves system affordability and resiliency also adding flexibility to use future payloads.
And beyond GEO-5 and -6, the first four SBIRS GEO satellites are based on the original A2100 design, which has been used extensively across Lockheed Martin’s Commercial satellite fleet and also Military Space programmes including AEHF [Advanced Extremely High Frequency], MUOS [Mobile User Objective System] and GPS [Global Positioning System].
“As a corporation, Lockheed Martin has tremendous experience in fully integrated air and missile defense systems (IAMD). We bring all that knowledge to bear for SBIRS,” McCormick added.
With regard to some emerging and cutting-edge technology developments the USAF-Lockheed Martin team may integrate into SBIRS satellites' life cycles, the programme official responded, for the spacecraft, “the modernised A2100 is the major technology jump. It adds further affordability by using common components, streamlined manufacturing and has a flexible design that reduces the cost to incorporate future, modernised sensor suites,” and continued, “The modernised A2100 enhances the spacecraft’s power, propulsion and electronics, while also adopting the latest advanced manufacturing techniques to decrease production costs and timelines. On the ground, Lockheed Martin has supported the Air Force with several major upgrades to the SBIRS ground system which provide enhanced performance and cybersecurity for the programme.”
While Lockheed Martin remains focused on inserting increasingly capable technologies into SBIRS, it remains attentive to the Pentagon’s 2017 acquisition environment. Said McCormick: “Through the leadership of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Lockheed Martin have been working to address the Department of Defense’s Better Buying Power and Bending the Cost Curve initiatives to deliver more value per dollar on this vital national security system. SBIRS has been providing outstanding global coverage for the Air Force, and migration to the modernised A2100 will help keep SBIRS ahead of America’s adversaries while dramatically reducing costs and cycle times.”
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Azusa, California, is Lockheed Martin’s major partner on SBIRS and has been providing critical portions of the SBIRS payload since GEO-1.