By B.C Kessner

ATK [ATK] met a major milestone recently as it conducted final testing and prepared to ship the Operational Responsive Space-1 (ORS-1) satellite bus to Goodrich [GR], after building it in just 16 months.

“Being able to build these satellites fast, and tailor them to the precise user needs, provides the commanders and the warfighter unprecedented capability,” Blake Larson, president of ATK Space Systems, said. “As we continue to build and operate satellites and develop more plug and play technologies, we will revolutionize how this nation responds to a threat.”

This is particularly important given the stories emerging about what troops are facing in Afghanistan on a daily basis, Brian Cullin, ATK’s senior vice president for corporate communications, told Defense Daily last week during a telephone interview. “This need for this kind of quick ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability delivered operationally is becoming much more acute…with the geography and nature of asymmetric threats there. ORS-1 will provide a real asset to the operational commanders, and ultimately save lives.”

Goodrich is the overall spacecraft integrator of the ORS-1 satellite system and will soon begin integrating the payload into the bus in preparation for launch later this year. ATK is the only provider of operational ORS spacecraft buses.

ORS-1 is part of the Pentagon’s ORS program that focuses on using small satellites and launch vehicles to provide innovative sensor technologies to the commanders in the battlefield, and doing so in shortened timeframes and in more affordable ways. The ORS-1 program supports ISR needs, by providing innovative sensor systems that range across multiple spectrums.

The program stemmed from an increasing reliance on space to meet emerging global challenges and threats that placed new demands on U.S. space capabilities.

“There was a growing realization that we needed new capabilities, including increased flexibility and adaptability to respond to urgent needs,” Cullin said.

U.S. Central Command issued an Urgent Need for ISR capability, resulting in the ORS-1 contract award to Goodrich and ATK in October 2008.

The companies responded rapidly with a capability focus, deriving the payload from existing U-2 systems and the spacecraft bus from the design ATK developed for the successful TacSat-3 satellite, with the addition of a propulsion module. “The requirement has existed for a while, and now we have the capability to match it after just 16 months of development…[and] well on track to develop and launch within two years. We feel really good about this one,” Cullin said.

The TacSat-3 satellite was launched to orbit by an Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB] Minotaur I rocket last year and continues to perform well past its mission life (Defense Daily, May 22). The TacSat-3 spacecraft was designed to meet the growing need of U.S. forces for flexible, affordable and responsive satellite systems. The program was a joint effort of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) Space Development and Test Wing, the Department of Defense ORS office, and the Office of Naval Research.

ORS-1 is the next step, Cullin said. “Operationally Responsive Space–there are really several ideas within the name. Operationally, it means putting combatant commanders in charge. Responsive, in that it changes the economics of space, using smaller and simpler satellites and deploying them in shorter timeframes. And space, using small satellites to drive technology insertion, backed by responsive lift, launch and spacecraft availability.”

ATK built the bus at its Beltsville, Md., facility. One of the goals of the program is to develop satellite buses with standard interfaces that allow for different sensors to be used for specific missions.

ORS-1 is a one-year mission, with a two-year goal, Cullin said. ORS-1 will provide color pictures of regions selected by ground force commanders, and use existing ground systems to process and distribute the images and other information out to the battlefield. The system is designed to support urgent military needs, while establishing a foundation that will advance the multi-mission modular approach required for future ORS satellites.

The Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS Office) is a joint initiative of several agencies within the Department of Defense responsible for integrating joint ORS capabilities and for applying ORS resources to the development, acquisition and demonstration of capabilities to meet specific responsive space needs as established by global combatant command joint force commanders and users.

The ORS-1 Program is managed by the Space Development and Test Wing located at Kirtland AFB, N.M., with support from the ORS Office.