Ground infrastructure nearing completion, but delivery of first satellite to USAF delayed

Lockheed Martin has met two milestones on the ground segment of the restructured Space-Based Infrared System High (SBIRS-High) programme, but delivery of the first next-generation early warning satellite to the US Air Force is running behind schedule.

The company completed hardware and software integration for the first two multi-mission mobile processors (M3P) for SBIRS-High and began field testing in December. The transportable M3P is a replacement for the US Army's joint tactical ground station, and will provide real-time direct downlink of satellite data to theatre commanders. Nine M3Ps are planned for delivery to the USAF and army.

Lockheed Martin has also completed initial delivery of the integrated training suite to train operational crews at the SBIRS-High mission control station at Buckley AFB, Colorado.

Launched in the mid-1990s to replace US Defence Support Programme (DSP) early-warning satellites, and restructured in 2002 after cost and schedule overruns, SBIRS-High is being implemented in two phases. The ground infrastructure is being modernised under Increment 1, while the DSP satellites will be replaced under Increment 2.

Three DSP ground stations have been consolidated into one under Increment 1, providing an open architecture to accommodate the new satellites as they are fielded. "The ground system has had delivery issues, but we have made most of the critical milestones, including the latest two," says Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin deputy programme manager.

SBIRS-High will comprise satellites in highly elliptical orbit (HEO) and geostationary orbit (GEO). The satellites will have faster-scanning infrared sensors to provide earlier warning of missile launches. The GEO spacecraft will also have a staring sensor that can be pointed at a region to provide rapid updates.

The first of the HEO sensors is in final integration at Lockheed Martin and is expected to fly later this year as a payload on another satellite. "There have been technical issues, and we will not ship until we know it works," says Ambrose.

Design work on the GEO spacecraft has restarted following restructuring of the programme. The first GEO will be operational in 2006, from a planned purchase of five systems, including one spare.

Restructuring of the SBIRS-High programme included a budget increase and extended the programme's schedule, says Ambrose.

Increment 3, which would have added low-Earth orbit satellites to the SBIRS constellation, was removed from the programme and deferred. Formerly known as SBIRS-Low, this capability has now been renamed the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. This element remains important for missile defence applications, he says.

Source: Flight International