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Responsive Space Program (RSP)

ORS Sat-1
Operationally Responsive Space Satellite -1
Near Real Time Tactical Military

© C. P. Vick 2009 All Rights Reserved



Military satellite for and by the military have long been desired within the confines of the military services. The military intelligence requirements for the war fighter have apparently finally over come its issues within the intelligence communities barriers of the past forcing a sea change to their own independent systems development requirements. From prior to World War II the military had been the primary provider of intelligence to the president but after the war the CIA was developed with its predominantly civil point of view that conflicted with military perception. The arguments between Military Intelligence requirements verses the CIA Intelligence requirements, verses the government civil leadership policy developers was never completely resolved. Literally the imagery systems as well as the imagery ownership are still being argued over. On the one hand the war fighting military wanted battlefield, wide field of view near real time imagery verses the military intelligence desire for high resolution of new developments for threat technical analysis verses the CIA trend analysis for the policy developers which created serious conflicts. When the civil, military communities tried to combine high and low resolution imagery systems to military and civil requirements capability in one system it was a technical, economic and management disaster seen in the cancelled FIA program the goals of which proved very elusive to impossible. In the past the two requirements were separate for the same reason the combined systems failed to be accomplished technologically.

In one respect the ORS-Sat program is an outgrowth from the failed FIA program approach and its evolving precursor heritage concepts for national, military intelligence requirements. They have been permitted to separate and evolve into the small size intelligence spacecraft for near continuous battlefield monitoring requirement constellations verses the larger national means systems familiar to all. The results is the city bus size standard intelligence gathering proven satellites and the new smaller compact car size systems so long suggested has in fact been developed quite openly. The exception being is that the driving requirements of both systems have diverged as a result of the failed previous approaches.

On the other hand it is the military motivations for their own requirement purposes as well as the civil trends for strategic intelligence issues that must remain the driving national requirements. Thus the U. S. intelligence community continues to work the larger class highly effective very expensive proven satellites that address the strategic requirements. This does bring into question the so called tactical satellite requirements concept which is not real for what the ORS-Sat program can actually accomplish. Both can serve their purposes but some balance is apparently being achieved.

The ORS-Sat program is not in competition with the intelligence community programs only trying to provide timely augmentation to existing real time information to the field deployed war fighters when they need it. To a large degree this is provided by the real time UAV technologies and higher altitude systems such as the U-2 and other classified systems that have been around since the mid 1960’s. The declassification of this program along with other information on other national intelligence systems decisions leaks is perhaps part of the effort to gain support for the Obama administrations Department of Defense desire to persuade Congress to approve the BASIC program and other mainline intelligence systems as presented by this administration.

The TacSat Open Back Door Approach Program Goes Operational

 Operationally Responsive Space Satellite-1 (ORS-SAT-1) is to go operational in 2010 as a near real time so called tactical military RECSAT in its first rendition. It is directly evolved from the TacSat-2 and TacSat-3 spacecraft successfully demonstrated flight developments. Indeed the ORS-Sat-1 spacecraft was approved even before the TacSat-3 had completed it prototype one year long mission. This does bring up the question whether TacSat-3 is not clandestinely operational five months before the end of its planned mission.

TacSat-3 Becomes Operational

TacSat-3 become an operational imaging spacecraft for the war fighter on May 12, 2010 after completing a highly successful experiment mission demonstration for the Operational Responsive Space (ORS) for the US military in the field. It is now under the control of the US Space Command.

Further developments in June 2010 revealed that the DoD requested a reprogramming of $3.9 billion appropriation for priority USAF (ORS) and other satellite programs to assure it get done on time. The ORS-1 program requested 15.7 million to be redirected for this effort to assured launch in November 2010 or the ORS-1 satellite with the TacSat-3 already operational well before May 2010.

Continuing national reconnaissance requirements continue to be revealed as having a research and development heritage from the new military Army, Air Force and Navy going its own way through the common combined TacSat R&D, S&T program requirements. Its building block design approach through industry development for the Science and Technological developments in addition to new solutions developed through the research and development process has been part of the program goals. That requirement was to make the supply system more responsive to identified needs in a timely manned. The advent of commercial and miniaturization space technologies with standardization have made this potential intelligence collection systems revolution achievable. Once the spacecraft are developed they can potentially be launched with in seven days of the request its operational goal with the interchangeable payload designs and prepared boosters.

USAF (RSP) Responsive Space Program

Joint War fighting [war fighter] Space (JWS) programs applied to this effort on the TacSat series precursor to the ORS-Sat systems is being headed by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate, Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's Space Development and Test Wing, the Department of Defense's ORS office, and the Office of Naval Research (NRL) as well as the DOD's Office of Force Transformation. This is in addition to other programs and research organizations involved in it the path finding technologies. Among those are the MicroSat Systems Inc. (MSI), ATK [Alliant Techsystems] and NRO, BASIC programs, contractors. There was even some apparent influence from the conceptual FIA Boeing semi stealth spacecraft with the six or eight sided stealth bus designs as seen in the Boeing & Ball Aerospace “Orbital Express” to enhance existing intelligence gathering capabilities. Some of the spacecraft bus’s have been built by the Naval Research Labs (NRL) and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in addition to ATK to mature ORS bus standards developed by an Integrated (government and industry) System Engineering Team, the "ISET Team," with active representation from AeroAstro, Air Force Research Laboratory, John Hopkins Laboratory APL, ATK Space, Ball, Boeing, Design Net Engineering, General Dynamics AIS, Microcosm, Microsat Systems Inc, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, Orbital Sciences, NRL, SMC, Space System Loral, and Raytheon. This remarkable list reflects the separation of the programs from the established intelligence gathering community’s participants.


ORS-1 Tactical RECSAT Standard Design Concept
Image Credit: Goodrich


The ORS-Sat-1 spacecraft has evolved from the heritage systems of Techsat-21, a cancelled program that contributed hardware to the TacSat program for elements of the TacSat-2 and the subsequent highly refined prototype TacSat-3 spacecraft. Indeed the building block approach of the program both to bring on the military and industry partners with tight R&D common hardware design requirements are now turning to the small military communications satellite MILCOMSAT the (TacSat-4), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging reconnaissance satellite RADINTSAT, and signals intelligence satellite SIGINTSAT which has flown precursors before and ELINT spacecraft (TacSat-6, TacSat-7 and TacSat-8 etc.), are in the advanced planning development with TacSat-5 approved for development. The failed launch of the TacSat-1 carried the ELINT package.

ORS Program Spacecraft Characteristics

The new smaller compact car size Micro-Satellites ORS spacecraft have evolved greatly since the military introduction of the intelligence systems from the UAV programs developments. Utilizing the military proven building block development approach by applying it to mini tactical satellites through multi-standardized series interchangeable mission payload packaging capability has been the primary focus of the engineering efforts for each spacecraft. This combined with the end to end life cycle systems design, hardware development, launches and operations in orbit contract represents a sea change in the expected contractors for such technological tactical operations requirements.

In reviewing the publicly displayed hardware and based on the known design of operational RECSAT hardware one could ask where is its front end laser and nuclear hardening, battle management system that are not self evident? Where are the radiator surfaces and hot, cold plates? Presumably the imaging telescope and its associated optics are far longer than indicated by the use of folding optics but the laws of physics do not change for the mission hardware requirements? The prototype solar array radiator appears to have disappeared. Certainly the spacecraft in visible light will be detectable like light bulb but may in part be radar stealthy. It will carry instrumentation for command control communication and intelligence (C3I) requirements in its design but this will be nothing like the larger school, bus size operational satellites. ORS Sat-1 is a new RECSAT electro-optical visible and infrared imaging camera whose heritage goes back to the Syers-2A design and is in part based on the TacSat-3 demonstrated technological approach. The designs utilize three solar arrays and the common ATK bus for a total mass in the 450 kilogram (992.25 pounds) range for Minotaur-1 launch. ORS-Sat-1 will however have a propulsion module added with at least one year spacecraft life time designed into it but with enough propellant depending on the rate of propellant usage of 2-4 years that is not available on the TacSat-3 test bed prototype. TacSat-3 weighed about 400 kilograms ( 880 pounds) possible indicating the propulsion bus will weigh 50 kilograms about (112 pounds). TacSat-4 appears to be carrying the propulsion module built into its bus. ATK is providing the common plug in satellite bus, and spacecraft platform and Goodrich Corporation received the contract for the overall spacecraft from the (DOD) for the first operational satellite in support of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program for the war fighter deployed in the field. Goodrich ISR systems won the conceptual contract development work that is now approved for testing and production for the first ORS-1 spacecraft for launch in 2010. This is because the primary spacecraft was demonstrated with TacSat-3 and the ultimate product ORS Sat-1 has passed it critical design review. That has permitted the authorization to build the spacecraft. The ORS Sat-1 will use the existing U-2 ground based systems to process and distribute information (images and data) coming from the satellite in response to the field commander’s request. Besides demonstrating the standardized spacecraft with its interchangeable mission modules that can be launched in less than a year it is also a part of the ongoing TacSat program of development for the ORS Sat program spacecraft. The spacecraft is based on the concept of a standard 6 or 8 sided buses for the spacecraft payload that can be an interchangeable optical RECSAT or instrumented electronic mission payload such as COMSAT, RADINT, SIGINT and ELINT payloads. It first operational system for launch in 2010 will be a RECSAT.


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