Pentagon rules that both Atlas and Delta fleets are needed to ensure access to space

The US Department of Defense (DoD) may provide $1 billion in aid to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to support the companies' US Air Force-funded Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) fleet of Delta IV and Atlas V vehicles. The first $200 million of additional funding for the next fiscal year has been released.

The DoD had already planned to spend $4 billion on EELV launches through to 2010, but is now being pressed to lift its suspension of seven Delta IV launches, as a new series of contracts needs to be awarded.

Boeing was stripped of this work after it was found to have misappropriated data on Lockheed Martin's rival Atlas V system during the air force's original EELV contest. In addition to costing Boeing $1 billion in lost work, the ban has also already cost the US government $233 million through programme delays.

Gen Lance Lord, commander, air force space command, says the service is now looking at placing its next launch order with Boeing. This has been made possible following a ruling by air force undersecretary Peter Teets that national interests require the availability of more than one launch vehicle type to ensure continued assured access to space.

While praising the Boeing and Lockheed Martin launch vehicles, Lord says that "they have been more expensive than we planned". He says this is because they have taken "longer to launch" than the air force had expected.

The EELV fleet will play a vital role in the deployment of the US military's future GPS III global positioning system satellites, as well as other military payloads.

Lord says the USA's current GPS satellites performed well in last year's Operation Iraqi Freedom, despite the limited use of jamming devices.

The air force has, meanwhile, issued its first request for proposals for its future Space Based Radar constellation. Lord says the system, to be fielded under a spiral development strategy, will deliver offensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services by, for example, providing cues for platforms such as Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles.

"We will get a lot of scrutiny, but it's an essential part of our future transformation," he adds.

Source: Flight International