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DOD Budget Request Ups Competition for Fewer Dollars in Space Projects

By | February 4, 2015
      AEHF DOD

      The U.S. Air Force’s AEHF 2 satellite. Photo: Patrick Air Force Base

      [Via Satellite 02-04-2015] In the recently released budget request for Fiscal Year 2016, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) asked for $177.5 billion, of which $7.1 billion would be allocated specifically to space-based systems. This is approximately $300 million less than what was granted in FY15 for space-based systems funding. However, while lowering the amount requested, DOD is increasing its focus on space industry competition, specifically with the Global Positioning System 3 (GPS 3) satellite program and with launches.

      Opening Doors to GPS

      The U.S. Air Force might hold a competition for the 11th GPS 3 satellite. Lockheed Martin won the first GPS 3 contract for two satellites and options for as many as 10 more, but the program costs have grown beyond DOD’s expectations. The Air Force had hoped the GPS 3 satellites would avoid the cost growth and schedule delays that plagued the GPS 2F series, for which Boeing was selected as prime contractor. Part of the reason for the GPS 3 delays, however, was the Air Force’s decision to push the first launch date by slightly more than a year to synchronize the system with the availability of the GPS Operational Control Segment (OCX) Block 0 — a necessary ground system to orbit and evaluate the satellites. The full constellation is now expected to be 27 satellites, though it was originally planned to be more.

      Launch Competition

      DOD also plans to compete more launches through the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The FY16 request calls for five additional EELV launches, three of which are to be contested. In the Air Force’s agreement with SpaceX over the company’s lawsuit, the government agreed to increase the number of competitive opportunities available through EELV. SpaceX initiated the lawsuit during the spring of 2014 in response to the Air Force’s $11 billion block buy of 36 rocket cores from Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA).

      Air Force Deputy Assistant Budget Secretary Major General James Martin said during a Feb. 2, press conference that from 2018 to 2020 all EELV launches will be competed. Awards for launches typically occur at least two years in advance of the mission. Major General Martin praised competition for bringing down prices, but declined to say whether DOD is budgeting less because of SpaceX’s impending entrance. DOD budgeted $1.6 billion for four EELV launches in 2015, whereas the 2016 request allocates $1.5 million for five launches.

      Major General Martin said funding is also set aside for replacing the Russian-built RD-180 engine and for establishing a system with two competitors. Once SpaceX is certified by the Air Force, it will be able to compete for launches with ULA. The incumbent launch provider is currently working with Blue Origin to develop a next generation launch vehicle with the domestically produced BE-4 engine.

      AEHF and SBIRS

      DOD’s FY16 budget request also includes funding for two additional Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites, AEHF 5 and 6, and two Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites GEO 5 and 6. The request also continues space modernization initiative Research Development Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) activities. AEHF, the successor to the existing EHF Military Strategic Tactical Relay (MILSTAR) constellation, will consist of four satellites once complete. The first three satellites are in operation with AEHF 4 slated to launch in 2017. AEHF 5 and 6 are replacement satellites for the first two spacecraft.

      Two additional SBIRS spacecraft are also replacement satellites. SBIRS, a follow-on to the Defense Support Program, consists of four GEO satellites and two hosted payloads in Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO). According to the budget request, the GEO 3 satellite is schedule for delivery from storage in July 2017, and the fourth is to be delivered directly from production in February 2016.

      Theses satellites will continue AEHF capability through 2027 and SBIRS GEO capability until the end of 2025. Having initiated development of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) successor, the Weather System Follow-On (WSF), the Air Force is planning to implement its strategy of disaggregation in space.

      The budget also includes a new account exclusively for Air Force major space procurement programs. Of the $7.1 billion not allocated for launch, $3 billion is for satellite programs and $2.6 billion is for support. The budget request is subject to congressional approval.