With delivery last week of the second Space Based Infrared System High payload, the Air Force’s SBIRS program manager, Col. Randy Weidenheimer, sees “tangible evidence that the program has turned the corner on several developmental issues.” Comparing it to the earlier payload, delivered in August 2004, Weidenheimer said the Highly Elliptical Orbit 2, or HEO 2, payload “has better technical performance.” SBIRS High comprises two payloads on host satellites in HEO, four satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and fixed and mobile ground data retrieval and processing stations. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman say they are on schedule for final integration and test of the first GEO satellite late this year. USAF expects to launch the first GEO sat in Fiscal 2008.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.