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Air Force To Launch Tactical Spy Satellite

The ORS-1 satellite is the first in a new program aimed at getting reconnaissance images and data to warfighters from space more quickly.

>Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
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The Air Force is preparing to launch the first spy satellite for a new program aimed at sending reconnaissance images and data from space to warfighters more quickly.

ORS-1, which is set to take off Wednesday on a Minotaur rocket from a NASA launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, is the first satellite in the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office program.

The program--which aims to put a number of small spy satellites into orbit--intends to provide enhanced space operations to help warfighters by responding directly to their needs and creating the technology they request within a short period of time, according to information on an Air Force website.

The satellite is carrying a SYERS-2 sensor, the same imaging sensor used on the Air Force's U-2 spy plane. Goodrich built the sensor and was the prime contractor on the development of the ORS-1, while the spacecraft bus was built by ATK Spacecraft Systems & Services.

ORS-1 also includes an integrated propulsion system as well as other critical subsystems for communications, attitude control, thermal control, and command and data handling to support the U.S. Central Command.

The military created in 2008 the program that built ORS-1, as a partnership between the ORS and the Space Development and Test Directorate, according to the Department of Defense (DOD).

To meet the tight deadlines U.S. Central Command imposed on the development of the ORS-1 satellite, the finished product includes some technology shortcuts that required workarounds, according to the DOD.

For instance, it includes some components that have not been qualified to typical space-flight standards, according to Col. Carol P. Welsch, acting director of the Space Development and Test Directorate and ORS-1's mission director.

"To mitigate some of the risk, the team introduced measures such as memory error detection and correction algorithms to help detect and repair any upsets to the on-board memory," she said in comments posted on a DOD website.

The launch window for the Minotaur rocket carrying ORS-1 is June 28 to July 10. Officials postponed a planned Tuesday launch due to inclement weather, but rescheduled for Wednesday. Orbital Sciences Corp. integrated ORS-1 with the rocket that will take it into space, according to NASA.

Once in orbit, the Air Force will submit the ORS-1 to 30 days of validation and calibration before clearing the satellite for its reconnaissance mission, which is currently scheduled for one to two years.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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