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Spaceport at Wallops Island Is Due to Launch Reconnaissance Satellite in 2010

The Pentagon has ordered a new, low-cost optical reconnaissance satellite that is expected to be launched within two years from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, which is operated by a partnership that includes Old Dominion University.

The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office is finalizing a contract with Goodrich ISR Systems of Danbury, Conn., to build a satellite dubbed ORS-Sat-1. It is being developed in response to an unspecified and urgent need from U.S. Central Command, according to Peter Wegner, director of the ORS office. ORS satellite development efforts to date have been limited to experimental craft. The ORS-Sat-1 will be the first of its type procured by the ORS office for operational use.

Goodrich will provide a fully integrated space system that will be launched by the U.S. Air Force. The company will develop the electro-optical imaging payload, and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) of Minneapolis will provide the spacecraft platform. The satellite is planned for launch in late 2010 aboard a Minotaur 1 rocket from Wallops Island.

The firm-fixed price contract will include options for other satellites. In an Oct. 28 interview, Wegner said the contract is not finalized but that it does authorize Goodrich to proceed with the development work. He declined to specify the value of the work, but industry sources pegged the initial value at around $30 million to $35 million.

The ATK platform is similar to one the company provided for the TacSat-3 satellite scheduled to launch early next year. NASA has used the spacecraft design on its Themis and EO-1 missions.

Goodrich ISR Systems develops spacecraft components including star trackers and other attitude sensors and has built payload components such as focal planes. While the company does not have any unclassified payloads in space, it has developed sophisticated airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors. Its Syers-2A sensor is flown on the high-altitude U-2 surveillance aircraft and feeds information directly to troops on the battlefield. The company will leverage Syers-2A capabilities for the ORS-Sat-1 sensor, said Charles Cox, the company's special projects director for electro-optical systems.

Developing military satellites has traditionally been expensive and time-consuming; the ORS office was created last year to build satellites relatively quickly and cheaply to augment or recapitalize existing capabilities. Wegner acknowledged that designing and launching a satellite in two years is a daunting task.

"That's a very challenging goal," he said. "We went into this knowing it's a challenging, high-risk endeavor."

While this will be the ORS office's first operational satellite, it will not be the first operational capability the office has delivered. In the past year, the office has responded to two other military needs - one for ultra-high frequency communications capacity and one for space situational awareness - by cobbling together solutions from existing space and ground systems.

Minotaur I rockets, the type that will lift the new reconnaissance satellite into orbit, have been launched previously from the MARS facility under contracts with the Air Force.

The MARS partnership includes ODU, NASA and the states of Virginia and Maryland. The spaceport is operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) and its fiscal agent is the ODU Research Foundation.

Technology and aerospace engineering support for MARS is provided by ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, and Billie Reed, ODU assistant professor of engineering management, is the MARS executive director.

This article was posted on: November 3, 2008

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