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Second SBSS satellite scheduled for launch in 2014

Posted: April 27, 2010

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The U.S. Air Force is planning a competition to acquire a second Space Based Space Surveillance satellite for launch in late 2014, according to a posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

The presolicitation notice says the follow-on spacecraft must be compatible with ground systems developed for the first SBSS satellite, which is named SBSS Block 10.

Armed with an ultra-sensitive optical telescope, SBSS will join a network of ground tracking radars monitoring the skies for space debris and foreign satellites.

Artist's concept of two SBSS satellites in orbit. Credit: Boeing
Circling a few hundred miles above Earth, the telescope on SBSS will be able to detect satellites in geostationary orbits some 22,300 miles high, in addition to scouting objects at lower altitudes.

"That data is both metric information that's used to update the catalog to understand where objects are in space and how they are traversing in orbit, as well as space object identification information that's used to understand what those objects are in space, and what their capabilities might be," said Todd Citron, director of space superiority and special missions for Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems.

Boeing Co. is the prime contractor for the SBSS Block 10 mission. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. developed, built and tested the spacecraft and instrument. The companies were selected by Northrop Grumman Corp., which oversees the overall SBSS contract with the Air Force.

The SBSS Block 10 team is likely to bid on the coming solicitation for a second satellite.

The Web posting said the Air Force plans to award the contract for a follow-on SBSS satellite by early 2011. Launch of the new spacecraft is anticipated in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, or late in calendar year 2014.

The timing of the launch would coincide with the expected end-of-life of the SBSS Block 10 satellite, which is scheduled for launch July 8 and should last up to five-and-a-half years in orbit, according to Ball Aerospace.

The July launch will use a Minotaur 4 rocket.

"It's important to go from catalog maintenance to real knowledge of what's going on in space with all these space objects," said Col. James Jordan, vice wing commander of the Air Force Space Superiority Systems Wing and SBSS mission director. "That's what this capability is really about."

The SBSS program was originally supposed to include a constellation of several platforms in orbit, but the Air Force now plans to field the space trackers in a one-by-one block approach building upon precursor spacecraft.