Latest updates[?]: The US Space Force has announced another successful test launch of its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The event occurred a day after North Korea paraded its indigenously-developed ICBMs, which analysts say could potentially challenge Washington’s defense systems. Equipped with a test reentry vehicle, the Minuteman III was fired from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on February 9.
LGM-30G Minuteman III
For 50 years, land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have been part of the US primary strategic deterrence capability, the nuclear-armed triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles and long range heavy bombers.
Although the main target for the US deterrent – the Soviet Union – imploded in 1991, other threats – such as nuclear-armed rogue states and non-state actors – have emerged. To address these new threats, the US Air Force undertook a major ICBM modernization program.
To carry out this program, the USAF awarded a 15-year ICBM Prime Integration Contract (F42610-98-C-0001) in 1997 to a team led by Northrop Grumman. Since then, the team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and ATK, has been carrying out a major modernization of the ICBM system to ensure its readiness.
Latest updates[?]: United Launch Services won a $149.4 million modification in support of National Security Launch delta IV heavy launch services. The modification is for the National Reconnaissance Office mission NROL-68, the second of three missions awarded to ULA under the Launch Vehicle Production Services contract in October 2018. The deal provides for a Delta IV heavy-lift rocket variant for the US Air Force’s National Security Space Launch program. ULA was awarded three NRO missions in October— NROL-91, NROL-68, and NROL-70 — scheduled to launch in fiscal year 2022, 2023 and 2024 respectively. Work under the modification will take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and company sites in Colorado and Alabama. The scheduled completion date is in December 2022.
Boeing Delta IV Heavy
The EELV program was designed to reduce the cost of government space launches through greater contractor competition, and modifiable rocket families whose system requirements emphasized simplicity, commonality, standardization, new applications of existing technology, streamlined manufacturing capabilities, and more efficient launch-site processing. Result: the Delta IV (Boeing) and Atlas V (Lockheed Martin) heavy rockets.
Paradoxically, that very program may have forced the October 2006 merger of Boeing & Lockheed Martin’s rocket divisions. Crosslink Magazine’s Winter 2004 article “EELV: The Next Stage of Space Launch” offers an excellent briefing that covers EELV’s program innovations and results, while a detailed National Taxpayer’s Union letter to Congress takes a much less positive view. This DID Spotlight article looks at the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, emerging challengers like SpaceX and the new competition framework, and the US government contracts placed since the merger that formed the United Launch Alliance.
Latest updates[?]: Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training and Charles Stark Draper Laboratories have each been awarded contracts to carry out support and engineering services for the US and UK Navies' Trident systems. Lockheed was awarded $72.47 million to provide Trident (D-5) II navigation sub-system engineering support services and that contract may contain add ons that amount to a total of $147.3 million if options are exercised. CSD Labs will provide specialized tactical engineering services, logistics services, fleet support services, and guidance SSP alteration services to test, repair and maintain guidance subsystems, test equipment, and related support equipment of existing Trident (D-5) weapon systems. The contract with CSD Labs is for $54.3 million, but with options could total $392.9 million.
Trident II D-5
Carried on SSBN-726 Ohio Class submarines, The Trident II D-5 is the US Navy’s submarine launched nuclear missile, with exceptional range for a sea-launched weapon and accuracy figures that rival or even exceed land-based ICBMs. These missiles are arguably the most important and effective component of the US nuclear deterrent, and they constitute Britain’s entire nuclear deterrent as well. They were first deployed in 1990, and are planned for continuous deployment to 2042.
The US Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, DC and Lockheed Martin recently issued over $100 million in contracts related to the Trident II D-5 SLBMs, in order to maintain their propulsion and guidance systems.
Back in May 2005, DID discussed Boeing & Lockheed’s plans to merge their space launch units into a single joint venture company. That effort has been on hold for quite some time now, but the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just granted anti-trust clearance to proceed toward closure of the United Launch Alliance (ULA), subject to compliance with a consent order that both parties have already approved. See full FTC release, including consent order details.
The FTC action is the final step in the government’s regulatory process. Boeing “expects that the remaining requirements will be successfully resolved to enable the transaction to be completed and ULA operations to begin.” If so, future launches of Boeing’s Delta and Lockheed’s Atlas rockets would all fall under ULA’s umbrella. The companies said they expect the joint venture to generate $1.5 – $2.0 billion in revenue per year, while saving the government $100 – $150 million a year. Some observers are skeptical concerning the latter claim, though it should be noted that the firms have a similar joint venture to manage the day-to-day operations of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.
September 27/15: Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings is reportedly considering raising its unsolicited bid price for the United Launch Alliance joint venture, despite a very public rejection of its first $2 billion bid, made earlier this month, by both Lockheed Martin and Boeing. A further setback for the company occurred last week when ULA signed an agreement with Orbital ATK as the company’s exclusive provider of solid fuel boosters, side-lining Aerojet Rocketdyne in the process.
September 10/15: Aerojet Rocketdyne submitted a bid on Wednesday to buy United Launch Alliance. The Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture is competing with SpaceX for US Air Force launch contracts, following the latter’s certification in May. The $2 billion bid comes amid concern from ULA’s two patrons over the use of the firm’s Russian-manufactured RD-180 rockets for military and intelligence satellite launches, with Congress ordering a stop to their use from 2019. The Air Force released an RFP in July for a replacement engine, with Aerojet Rocketdyne previously offering its AR-1 engine to ULA as a replacement for the RD-180s; however, ULA opted for a Blue Origin design in September 2014.
The path toward a hypersonic space plane has been a slow one, filled with twists and turns one would expect given the technological leap involved. Speeds of Mach 8+ place tremendous heat and resistance stresses on a craft. Building a vehicle that is both light enough to achieve the speeds desired at reasonable cost, and robust enough to survive those speeds, is no easy task.
Despite the considerable engineering challenges ahead, the potential of a truly hypersonic aircraft for reconnaissance, global strike/ transport, and low-cost access to near-space and space is a compelling goal on both engineering and military grounds. The question, as always, will be balancing the need for funding to prove out new designs and concepts, with risk management that ensures limited exposure if it becomes clear that the challenge is still too great. In October 2008, the US Congress decided that FALCON/Blackswift had reached those limits. That decision led to the program’s cancellation, though some activities will continue.
With competition coming at last to American military satellite launches, civilian developments take on new importance. A NASA program called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) is a major source of potential funds for key players in space launch and space vehicles, which could solve a civilian problem while improving the military’s options.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, American manned missions to the International Space Station have mostly involved Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which costs about $63 million per seat. The lone exception has involved the commercial space innovator SpaceX, whose unmanned Dragon v1.0 capsule docked at the ISS in May 2012. NASA continues to pursue its own Space Launch System heavy rocket and Orion capsule for manned spaceflight, but in the mean time, its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program aims to spur development of lower-cost American options that could supplant or supplement Soyuz.
These “space taxis” will rely on heavy-lift rockets to make it into space. Their purpose isn’t military, but their configurations are very good news for the USA’s space industrial base…
On April 25/14, aerospace innovator SpaceX filed suit in US Federal District Court against the US government and the firm’s ULA competitor. Their legal challenge centers around the USAF’s multi-year sole-source, 36-core EELV contract with ULA, which was finalized on Dec 16/13. SpaceX claims that the USAF changed the rules for eligibility mid-stride, bent its own rules to remove planned competitive launches, locked in a contract with secret terms that further restrict competition, and made commitments that will cost the USA more than $6 billion.
The suit is significant enough that upon review, DID has expanded our coverage, and decided to dedicate a specific article to the suit as a single point of reference.
In physics, a moire pattern is an interference pattern created when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes. It’s an appropriate name for DARPA’s Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) project, which aims to use diffractive optic membranes to conduct tactical video surveillance from space. That’s very useful when looking at territory where an intruding UAV is likely to be shot down, or when conducting operations to find, say, mobile SCUD missiles within a large potential area.
Making that happen involves a 20-meter diameter optic membrane surveying an area of more than 10 x 10 km at least once a second, with ground resolution better than 2.5 meters, and the ability to detect moving vehicles. Field of regard would be larger, of course, at 10 million square kilometers that could be covered from geosynchronous orbit. Finally, all of this has to cost less than $500 million per copy. How hard could all that be? Hard enough for DARPA, apparently…
Arms control treaties and other deactivations have left the USA with over 1,400 ballistic missile rocket motors in storage. The USAF’s Rocket Systems Launch Program looks at ways to reuse them for missile defense testing or spacecraft launches, examines the use of ballistic missile technology for a Conventional Strike Missile (CSM), and studies related technologies. RSLP has supported various technology development efforts for guidance and navigation systems; advanced reentry physics; avionics; Missile Technology Demonstration (MTD); Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology (BMRST).
In December 2012, US Space & Missile Command’s Space Development and Test Wing issued 3 indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price RSLP contracts, with up to $900 million in task orders to be competed among the winners:
At a time when defense budgets are being cut, the era of the multi-billion dollar military satellite program might be over. Witness the fate of the massive $12 billion TSAT program, which was shut down in 2009. As a much cheaper alternative, governments are exploring the possibility of using microsatellites to perform many of the functions currently performed by expensive large satellite systems: GPS navigation, communication, surveillance, and earth imagery.
At a 10th of the cost of their larger cousins, microsatellites are much easier sell to budget conscious procurement officers. They are much cheaper and faster to build and launch. For key military missions, however, their reliability and longevity are an issue. They might be cheaper, but if the military has to use 10 times as many to do the job of traditional satellites, would that be a cost savings?
This DID Spotlight article will focus on the US military’s microsatellite development and launch programs, as well as the Army’s development of nanosatellites for battlefield communication, and take a brief look at the problem of space debris.