Minding the Gap

The Air Force is eying Fiscal 2020 for the launch of the follow-on satellite that would replace the Space Based Space Surveillance Block 10 spacecraft operating? on orbit today, said Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan, the Air Staff’s space operations chief. With the projected end of the Block 10 satellite’s operational service life in 2017, that would mean roughly a three-year gap in the type of space-monitoring coverage that the Block 10 satellite provides from its position in low Earth orbit. Whelan told reporters at the Pentagon on Feb. 6. “We’ve requested investment funds in Fiscal 2016 to plan for the launch of the [SBSS] follow-on,” said Whelan. “In the meantime, the Air Force has accepted the risk related to Block 10’s end of life and the potential space-based [space situational awareness] coverage gap,” he noted. Several factors may help to mitigate that gap, said Whelan. For one, the experimental ORS-5 satellite is scheduled to launch in Fiscal 2017 to validate space-surveillance technology that could reside on the SBSS follow-on spacecraft. Whelan noted that ORS-5 “will have a residual operational capability” that the Air Force could turn to. Further, industry has done “a wonderful job” in delivering satellites that outlive their projected service lives, so the Block 10 satellite may end up operating longer on orbit, he said. “So, we’re pretty confident that there won’t be any unreasonable gap in our SSA mission coming from SBSS,” said Whelan.