Space Foundation News

Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs Speaks at Space Foundation Luncheon

Written by: developer

Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs Speaks at Space Foundation LuncheonCOLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Feb. 5, 2010) — Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, Gary Payton, spoke Feb. 4 at a Space Foundation Correspondents Group gathering in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, he spoke to reporters about the new Air Force budget, including plans for space protection, operationally responsive space (ORS), and satellite programs. He noted that there are five Air Force satellite launches scheduled for 2010.

Payton said that because the Department of Defense is concerned about potential threat to its surveillance and reconnaissance satellites, primarily from China, it is exploring ways to improve space protection and reduce reliance on satellites. This could include encryption, frequency hopping, and using more aircraft for intelligence collecting, surveillance and reconnaissance. 

Payton stressed that the top priority in military space is mission continuity, ensuring the health of the satellite constellations as well as upgrading capacity. In the next year, launches are planned for both the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite systems

WGS is an unprotected satellite that serves as a significant pipe for data, particularly intelligence, to support on-the-ground tactical command and control, including supporting analysis of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery and other information.

AEHF is a protected communications satellite system that is difficult to intercept or jam. Payton noted that, after delays in the development of AEHF-1, the workforce gained software and hardware expertise, dramatically improving efficiency in the development of AEHF-2 and 3. He also said there is a program underway to insert capabilities developed for the Transformational Satellite System (TSAT) program into future WGS and AEHF satellites.

Payton said that the schedule for National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, which was restructured under the new budget, is driven by Earth science objectives rather than operational meteorology goals. Although the military uses information from all orbits, the afternoon orbit is most important for Earth science and the morning orbit is priority for the military. Therefore, according to Payton, the program will be split to allow each agency to take care of its highest priority issues. The NPOESS Preparatory Program (NPP) will be launched in the afternoon orbit to ensure continuity for NOAA and NASA. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) will use the morning orbit to ensure continuity for the military. He also said the Air Force maintained the NPOESS budget and prime contract to hold onto the educated, skilled, and experienced workforce and to avoid the ‘starts and stops’ of which space programs are often accused.

Payton said despite the learning curve created when baby boomers begin to retire, the younger generation is very technically qualified. He said that projects with shorter life-cycles are good for new employees because they allow them to see the result of their work and decisions and that the Air Force is trying to take this approach in the Air Force Research Lab and on the ORS programs.

Payton talked about the interim Space Posture Review report, issued to Congress on Feb.1, which said that “congested and contested” environment in space is getting worse, not better. Congested is illustrated by the collision between the Russian and the Iridium communications satellites last year, and contested is illustrated by continued jamming, dazzling, and kinetic kill demonstrations. Both make space protection an important issue.

Payton used the GPS program as an example, noting that although the military requires only 24 GPS satellites, the constellation currently includes 30, resulting in better service in mountainous terrain and urban canyons. He said one possibility would be to reduce the number of GPS satellites and augment with allied systems, such as Galileo. Another possibility would be to develop a chip-scale receiver, which would need to link up to the GPS constellation only once a day and could maintain its own timing and location data.

Payton said that space situational awareness efforts are also an important aspect of space protection, noting that the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) is now doing conjunction analysis for almost every operational item, placing top priority on human vehicles. He noted that there will be a follow-on to the SBSS satellite, including a review to determine if another design would be better. The space fence program will continue, although the funding is about a third ($30 million) less than requested; the Air Force is still determining how to absorb this reduction. The ORS program will continue, with ORS-1 scheduled to launch in November 2010. The Air Force is also expecting to launch a Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) in 2010 on an SES communications satellite. The ORS program was scaled back, but this has resulting in a slowing of the program and not cancellations.

Payton also touched briefly on the effect of cancelling the Constellation program on Air Force plans, saying that the Air Force does a lot of work with NASA to maintain liquid and solid rocket boosters. If ATK doesn’t manufacture the boosters for Constellation, he said, this could increase costs for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). He said that the most important thing is to retain the reliability of the rocket.

Payton also mentioned that NASA and Air Force Space ‘share’ a workforce and he wonders what effect layoffs will have on maintaining a skilled workforce. He specifically pointed to how the lack of NASA business could result in increased propulsion system costs, saying that the Air Force is looking at more efficient procurement methods, such as making multi-year purchases, to help bring down costs without sacrificing reliability.

The luncheon is part of a regular series of gatherings sponsored by the Space Foundation for Washington, D.C.-based space, defense, science and technology, business, and international journalists to engage in dialogue with leaders from across the space industry.