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Raytheon Wins Contract To Develop Alternative Space-Based Warning Sensor

By | September 11, 2006

      Michael Sirak

      The Air Force has awarded Raytheon [RTN] a $54.4 million contract to build a prototype space sensor that could be adopted to complement or replace the nation’s next-generation missile warning satellites, the service said recently.

      Under the term of the cost-plus-award-fee deal, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems will deliver a full-earth staring sensor assembly to the Air Force in March 2008 for space qualification testing, according to the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), which oversees the Air Force’s acquisition of space systems.

      Raytheon will carry out this risk-reduction work under the Alternative Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS) project. The Air Force launched AIRSS late last year as a means of mitigating the chances that the nation could be faced with a gap in space-based missile launch warning capabilities if the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-led Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High missile warning satellite program experienced additional setbacks.

      Since its inception, the SBIRS High program has experienced technical challenges that have delayed the fielding of the satellites and skyrocketed costs.

      “The performance data from this sensor will enable the Air Force to assess the risk of this approach for a future AIRSS developmental system,” SMC said in the statement it issued on the contract on Sept. 5. The actual award to Raytheon occurred on Sept 1.

      The center said it is considering the award of a second risk-reduction contract to another bidder to pursue a second alternative approach.

      The Air Force has said it wants to be in the position around early 2008 to decide whether to build the AIRSS in place of procuring all five of the SBIRS High satellites for which it had originally planned. If it opts to proceed with AIRSS, it wants the first AIRSS spacecraft available for launch around 2015.

      Lockheed Martin’s SBIRS High team, which includes payload provider Northrop Grumman [NOC], has already built two sensor payloads for placement on classified intelligence satellites that operate in highly elliptical orbits (HEO). The first of these is assumed to be already on orbit.

      The team is also under contract to build two SBIRS satellite that will function in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), with the launch of the first of them anticipated in late 2008.

      The Air Force could opt to forgo the final three SBIRS High satellites in place of AIRSS.

      The service has a requirement to phase out its current Defense Support Program space-based warning constellation with at least four replacement satellites–whether they are all SBIRS High spacecraft or a mix of SBIRS and AIRSS–that can provide uninterrupted warning of tactical and strategic missile launches. The fifth satellite would be a spare.

      The service asked industry in July to begin defining AIRSS concepts.

      Despite a checkered past, the SBIRS High program is now progressing well, according to Lockheed Martin officials. Last week, the company announced that it has successfully completed spacecraft functional testing of the first GEO satellite. The company said the tests verified the functional requirements of the GEO spacecraft to ensure it is assembled to specification.

      Next up is will be engineering thermal vacuum testing to validate that the spacecraft will perform in temperature extremes equal to or greater than those expected during its on-orbit operations, according to a company statement issued on Aug. 29.

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