The head of Air Force Space Command said March 15 he has increased confidence that industry can have a new all-American rocket ready to fly by the 2022-23 timeframe.
“I have more confidence today than I did last year,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten testified to the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. “I’m more confident this year with both the Aerojet Rocketdyne solution as well as the Blue Origin solution than I was last year because the progress that we’ve made working with industry and the progress that I’ve seen from those two companies.”
Hyten warned that there was risk in meeting that timeframe as there’s always risk in any development program looking at new technology. Both Aerojet Rockedyne [AJRD] and Blue Origin are developing engines for use in United Launch Alliance‘s (ULA) next-generation Vulcan rocket propulsion system. Aerojet Rockedyne is developing the AR1, a liquid oxygen/kerosene engine with a oxidizer-rich staged combustion engine cycle. Blue Origin is making the BE-1, a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas engine.
As part of the Defense Department’s increasing scrutiny of the Global Positioning System (GPS) operational control system (OCX) ground system, the Pentagon gave prime contractor Raytheon [RTN] an additional 24 months of schedule. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space, Strategic and Intelligence Systems Dyke Weatherington testified that a requirement for quarterly “deep dives” came with the two-year extension and that the first deep dive took place the week of March 7. This, he said, was attended by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) Frank Kendall and Air Force Secretary Deborah James.
Weatherington said the Air Force remains committed to OCX, though it is developing off-ramps for the program in case the service can’t “close.” It also recently awarded Lockheed Martin [LMT] a contract to serve as a contingency.
The Air Force is evaluating its next steps for an experimental unit based at Schriever AFB, Colo., that provides space support to warfighters around the world and situational awareness of everything going on space. The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center’s (JICSpOC) fourth and final experimentation period ends in May and Hyten said the service has proposals to senior DoD leadership about how to transition to a future construct.
JICSpOC, Hyten said, provides the Air Force the capability experiment with capabilities necessary in case of potential warfare in space. The Air Force requested $15 million for JICSpOC in its fiscal year 2017 request for JICSpOC as well as $73 million for the JSpOC mission system. Both Hyten and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Robert Cardillo expressed excitement with what the two agencies accomplished with JICSpOC and that it was great teamwork between DoD and IC.
Hyten said he’ll take a trip in two months to Kodiak launch complex, formally known as Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska (PSC-A). His remark came after Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) asked about the Air Force possibly continuing development of secondary launch sites at locations like Wallops Island, Va., and PSC-A. Hyten said the Air Force currently launches satellites only at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., because only those locations possess the proper satellite processing facilities. He said if the Air Force moves into a future structure with smaller satellites due to disaggregation, in addition to building resiliency into the service’s launch infrastructure, it will need to consider additional launch sites.
The Air Force is embarking on a highly-anticipated analysis of alternatives (AoA) as it evaluates how to acquire satellite communication (SATCOM) over the next few decades. Hyten said he hoped to have the AoA done as early as March 17. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro testified that he’d ensure that Congress receives “apples-to-apples” cost comparisons on the price of procuring SATCOM bandwidth from commercial satellite operators as opposed to military owned and operated satellites.