[FPSPACE] SBIRS-High still grounded

DwayneDay zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 12 19:24:57 EDT 2004

-----Original Message-----
From: Allen Thomson <thomsona at flash.net>

>> There's a short article in last week's Space News indicating that the USAF 
>> has announced that the first SBIRS-High missile warning satellite will not 
>> be launched until fall 2008.

>Is there any indication as to whether  "High" is the GEO or HEO version? 

The article is not explicit on this, however, it states that the slip is in the launch of the "dedicated" satellites, which presumably means the GEO satellites.  It also states that the software problem may affect the ground segment as well.

>(To repeat an earlier question, "Jeez, what's so hard about this?" )

I happen to think that irony is so ever-present in the modern world, so totally saturating everything about human existence, that it's a sign of a lazy mind to point out the irony in situations these days.  Then again, I'm intellectually lazy here, so I'll point out the irony that after the April announcement, I read an editorial somewhere (Space News?) that noted that SBIRS-High seemed to have finally "turned the corner."  And yet a few months later and--ta da!--the launch slips by another year.  As I noted in another post, the average NASA cost overrun is 45%.  The average military space cost overrun is 69%.  The SBIRS-High cost overrun is now 500%.

But this is nothing new.  A March 1996 issue of Spaceflight contained an article on the DSP missile warning satellite that stated: "What the convoluted path (i.e. AWS, BSTS, BE, AWS, TW/AAF, FEWS, FEWS/MLV, EWS, DSP++, DSP-II, ALARM, HERITAGE, SBIR) of selecting a replacement for DSP suggests is that the Air Force has had a difficult time defining its requirements for a system that the head of USSPACECOM repeatedly called his 'highest priority.'  This represents an appalling case of mismanagement and incompetence and has now resulted in Congressional intervention and prompted a high-level review of the military space programme."

Note that that article is now nearly nine years old, and that every one of those acronyms represented a different actual or proposed program for replacing the DSP (DSP++ and DSP-II were proposed smaller versions of DSP that were not seriously considered, but probably should have been).  SBIRS-High was supposed to be in orbit two years ago, but now looks like it will not fly before late 2008 at the earliest.

It also makes me wonder a bit about when DSP becomes too thin to be effective.  I think they've already lost their safety margins on this--if the last DSP blows up at launch, there will be gaps in coverage.  It will probably require shifting one of the operational satellites and leaving uncovered areas.  Given all of these problems, I think that USAF should have purchased the smaller DSP version that was proposed in the mid-1990s to serve as a gapfiller.


More information about the FPSPACE mailing list