More on More SBIRS Satellites

We reported last month that the Air Force intends now to procure a fifth and sixth Space Based Infrared System satellite next decade based on a Dec. 1 directive from Pentagon acquisition executive John Young. We’ve learned a little more: To minimize cost and schedule risk in getting these two satellites (GEO-5 and GEO-6) into orbit, the Air Force is building its initial budget estimates assuming that the sats would be “clones” of the preceding pair (GEO-3 and GEO-4), meaning that any changes would be driven solely by parts obsolescence, Air Force spokesman Maj. Richard Johnson, told the Daily Report in a written response to a query. However, since a final technical baseline has not been approved for the two satellites —and probably will not be for several years—Johnson said “the inclusion of advanced technologies has not been precluded.” This apparently leaves open the possibility that some newer technologies might be inserted into GEO-5 and GEO-6 from the follow-on Third Generation Infrared Surveillance program that began last year. A Lockheed Martin-led team is building the SBIRS satellites for the Air Force to replace the Defense Support Program early warning constellation. GEO-1 is scheduled for launch in Fiscal 2010, followed by GEO-2 in 2011, GEO-3 in the fourth quarter of 2014, and GEO-4 in the third quarter of 2016, according to Johnson. Assuming production of GEO-5 and GEO-6 begins in Fiscal 2012 and 2013, respectively, GEO-5 would be placed in orbit in the third quarter of 2017, followed by GEO-6 one year later, he said. Interestingly, the Air Force has planned the notional launch for the first SBIRS follow-on satellite (i.e., one utilizing 3GIRS technology) in the same timeframe as GEO-6 to ensure “continuity of missile warning coverage with legacy assets while transitioning to the next generation capability,” said Johnson.