Lockheed Martin Corp said testing of its troubled Space Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) was going well and the satellite should be delivered to the Air Force in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Rick Ambrose, vice president and general manager of surveillance and navigation systems for Lockheed, said yesterday that testing of the satellite in the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will have to endure should be completed by mid-November.
That will be followed by a final integrated systems test before the satellite, to be used for early warning of enemy missile launches, is delivered. It should be launched 45 to 60 days after delivery, probably in early 2011, he said.
Lockheed decided in January 2009 it needed more time to complete testing and pushed back the delivery date by a year, to add some “margin” for any discoveries during the thermal vacuum testing now being completed, Ambrose said.
He said there had been no further delay since that point, and the testing had resulted in no new discoveries or problems. “It’s going remarkably smoothly,” he said.
He said Lockheed also had teams studying ways to cut the cost of future SBIRS and global positioning satellites through design changes that made it easier to produce the satellites.
General Kevin Chilton, commander of US Strategic Command, told reporters on yesterday that the first two SBIRS sensors, already in highly elliptical orbit on two host satellites, were performing “spectacularly” and the new satellite, which will go into geosynchronous orbit, would do even better.
He said a year ago the first SBIRS satellite had been expected to launch late this year; now that launch was another 12 to 18 months off. But he said the SBIRS program had probably crossed “the biggest hurdles” and the Pentagon now understood the issues associated with the program pretty well.
When the program began in 1996, the Pentagon expected to launch the first satellite in the early 2000s, but technical challenges kept delaying the program. In late 2007, Lockheed also said it needed to revamp the software architecture for the program, further delaying the first launch.
Chilton said he remained frustrated that the program had been delayed repeatedly, but it was important to “make SBIRS work.” At the same time, he said the Pentagon was already beginning to look at what would succeed the program.
In a speech to a space conference in Omaha, Nebraska, Chilton said the Pentagon needed to stop counting on all of its satellites to last longer than expected, and return to the more “robust” situation of a decade ago, when the Pentagon had ample satellites available on the ground as backups, and could more rapidly launch new satellites if problems arose.
“We don’t face any immediate gaps right now, but we have stretched out programs to the point of delivery that now you start worry about the success rate of your launches, and you start worrying about some systems lasting longer than their design life,” he told reporters in teleconference.
He said he was willing to “sacrifice some capabilities” to ensure more overlap in satellite programs and ensure that no gaps between existing and new programs ever occurred.
He said that was particularly important given the US military’s greater reliance on space-based systems for everything from weather forecasting to missile warning to targeting and intelligence information.
Pic: SBIRS satellite