Air Force Studying Alternatives To Troubled ORS-6 Satellite

The U.S. Air Force has scrubbed the launch of a weather demonstration satellite, citing unspecified “technical issues” with the spacecraft’s bus.

The Air Force’s Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO), formerly the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, had planned to launch the ORS-6 satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in February. The mission would have space-qualified a new “modular” satellite bus. 

Orbital's Minotaur IV launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 26, 2017, carrying the ORS-5 space-tracing satellite. Photo: Orbital ATK.

Orbital ATK's Minotaur IV launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 26, 2017, carrying the ORS-5 space-tracking satellite. Photo: Orbital ATK.

In a written response to questions, the Space RCO said late May 31 that it is now looking at “alternate approaches” to demonstrate the satellite’s Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer (COWVR) payload.

The COWVR instrument, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is designed to try out new, lower cost technology for measuring ocean winds, “ultimately leading to more sensors in space and improved accuracy of U.S. military weather forecasts,” JPL says.

Meanwhile, the Space RCO said it plans to award a space vehicle contract this month for ORS-8, which will characterize clouds. The office intends to launch the satellite in 2021.

The space office, which is based at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, was formed 11 years ago to quickly develop urgently needed capabilities. The Air Force recently announced plans to beef up the organization, such as by more than doubling the size of its workforce (Defense Daily, May 17).

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