Lockheed’s SBIRS High Satellite Program Bracing for a Fall
The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High satellite program aims to replace the current fleet of DSP satellites for early detection of ballistic missile launches. Lockheed Martin has delivered the sensors for the classified satellites, and the payload for the first dedicated satellite is in thermal vacuum testing (UPDATE: completed successfully Jan 18, 2006). Even so, the Lockheed program has had more than its share of difficulties. Its costs grew from $4 billion to $11-12 billion, and the launch date slipped from 2002 to 2009, but SBIRS has thus far been viewed as a problem program with no alternative.
That status may be changing. First of all, the existing DSP satellites are lasting longer than expected. In addition, C4ISR Journal reports that SBIRS is being scaled back from at least 5 to no more than 3 satellites (and possibly 2), due to technical difficulties that have proven “intractable.” They also note that the U.S. Air Force will seek Congressional approval next year to begin work on a new space-based Overhead Non-Imaging Infrared (ONIR) missile-warning satellite system instead. The ONIR competition will take advantage of more up to date sensor and software technologies, but will not be as ambitious as SBIRS in terms of performance requirements. It will also dump the ADA programming language that is the basis of SBIRS current software, in favor of more modern programming languages.
Read C4ISR’s article “Pentagon Scales Back SBIRS Program” for more details regarding SBIRS, the near-term design compromise that the USAF still rejects, and the blow that Undersecretary Krieg’s Dec 12/05 memo represents to Lockheed.