Return to the final frontier

Systems integrators are preparing for a takeoff of space opportunities<@VM>Contracts to watch

Cross-agency space initiatives

  • Climate Change Science Program/Global Change Research Program (multiagency)

  • National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (Air Force, NASA and NOAA)

  • Global Earth Observation System of Systems (multiagency)

  • Next-Generation Air Traffic Management Joint Program Office (DOD, FAA and NASA)

  • Next-Generation Internet (multiagency)

  • Joint Agency Commercial Imagery Evaluation program (multiagency)

Systems integrators are chasing lucrative space projects ranging from man's return to the moon to defense systems and better weather data.

Courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corp.

Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin relied on note cards to help guide the Apollo 11 lunar module to its landing on the moon in 1969.

Stacked between him and Neil Armstrong, the cards held information to confirm the navigation of the craft as it made its descent.

That decidedly low-tech way of validating the module's course helped make history as Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Certainly, computers played a role, but some systems used to help get the astronauts into outer space held fewer bytes than a floppy disk.

Four decades later, information systems will play as critical a role as rocket engines and life support systems in getting men and women to the moon.

And getting back to the moon is just one of several drivers fueling the growth of space business opportunities. The Defense Department is looking at space-based communications and intelligence gathering to help it transform operations. A new generation of satellite weather systems holds the promise of better and more accurate forecasts that can save lives and property.

These drivers and others are spawning procurements that are worth billions of dollars and have systems integrators and other IT companies forming alliances and devising strategies to grab a share of a growing market.

"The competition is increasing," said George Nossaman, director of advanced digital systems for the electronics and analytical systems group at BAE Systems North America Inc. of Rockville, Md. The opportunities are there for small as well as large companies, he said.


The return mission to the moon is the project that brings the headlines ? and prestige for the team picked as the project's systems integrator.

In January 2004, President Bush announced that the United States again would send astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars.

NASA has picked a team led by Northrop Grumman Corp. and the Boeing Co. and a second team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. to compete for the job of designing the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Although designed to carry astronauts to the moon, the CEV initially will only replace the space shuttle.

NASA plans next spring to select one contractor for the second phase of the program. The agency in 2008 will make a final selection of the CEV contractor team. NASA anticipates a lift-off in 2012.

The space agency has estimated total development costs for the CEV at $15 billion. For fiscal year 2006, it requested more than $753 million for continuing development of the CEV.

The House of Representatives approved NASA's fiscal 2006 budget of $16.5 billion, which includes CEV funding. The Senate also is expected to approve the budget. NASA's fiscal 2006 IT budget is estimated at about $1.9 billion.

Unlike the Apollo, the CEV will have advanced information systems when it reaches the launch pad, said Douglas Young, vice president of space systems and program manager for Northrop Grumman's CEV project. He briefed reporters Oct. 12 on the project.

The vehicle, which will replace the space shuttles when they are retired in five years, will have software avionics and integrated health management technology that gives astronauts more autonomy. Other IT-rich systems will provide avionics, guidance, navigation and control, and mission and ground systems support, he said.

He declined to say how much will need to be spent building these systems.

In the CEV, software will be upgraded with new sensors and capabilities for an improved lunar mission, said Leonard Nicholson, deputy CEV program manager at Boeing. The Northrop Grumman-Boeing team has not yet selected IT components, but, he added: "We've determined the state-of-the-art systems available to do the job, so we don't have to develop new systems."

In January, Lockheed Martin announced its team for the competition to design and build the CEV. Team members include EADS Space Transportation S.A., Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., Honeywell Inc., Orbital Sciences Corp. and United Space Alliance.

"The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be a cornerstone asset in NASA's overarching plan for space exploration and its success is a national imperative," said John Karas, vice president of space exploration at Lockheed Martin, in the January press release.

Further opportunities for space exploration include the Crew Launch Vehicle, which will power the CEV into space, and the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle.

But before it can launch any new spacecraft, NASA faces several obstacles, one of the biggest being the uncertainty over what will happen when the Bush administration is no longer in power.

"Will this vision for space exploration last only as long as the administration is in office, or will they go off in another direction when someone else is in the White House?" asked David Pollock, marketing planning specialist at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Inc. of Canoga Park, Calif. He gave a presentation on NASA at a recent Government Electronics and Information Technology Association IT forecast conference.


But no matter what party takes office in 2008, there is little doubt that satellite communications and other space-based systems are critical to how the military operates.

With the Air Force leading the way, the Defense Department spends more on space technology than NASA does.

"DOD far outweighs what NASA does," said Michael Coats, vice president and deputy for space exploration at Lockheed Martin.

The Defense Department in fiscal 2006 will spend about $8 billion dollars on space operations and management, procurements and what's known as RDT&E, that is, research, development, test and evaluation, according to GEIA. In fiscal 2011, the budget will drop to $6.8 billion, as a result of cost and schedule risks, and budget pressures.

Space has become an integral part of part of the Defense Department warfighting capabilities, Coats said. As part of its transformational space program, it depends heavily on new space-based technologies to support and revamp military operations.

"Basically, we can't fight wars without the space-based capabilities," said Nossaman of BAE Systems. "Most of our communications, our navigation and the Global Positioning System are embedded in the way we operate militarily, [as well as] a lot of the advanced sensors, the surveillance and reconnaissance systems that come from space."

Some possible upcoming near-term opportunities include:

  • Spiral Two of the Rapid Attack Identification, Detection and Reporting System (RAIDRS), worth about $200 million with an anticipated request for proposal date in October 2007

  • Orbital Deep Space Imager (ODSI), worth $500 million with an anticipated RFP date of October 2007

  • Space Based Space Surveillance, currently in a study phase, but estimated to be worth about $700 million with an estimated RFP date of October 2006

  • Operationally Responsive Space (ORS): TacSats Launch Vehicles and Systems Support Structure worth between $1 billion-$2 billion request in fiscal year 2008; TacSats RFPs will be issued at 12 to 18 month intervals.

But the department has been beset by problems ? mainly cost overruns and schedule delays ? with its space projects. These problems have roused the ire of Congress, which is pressuring the Defense Department to reduce the risks and costs of its space programs.

In a July report, the Government Accountability Office said the Defense Department had been unable to match resources, such as time, technology and money, to requirements before beginning individual programs. This set the stage for technical and other problems, which led to cost and schedule increases, the report said.

Costs for the Space-based Infrared Systems High, a missile defense warning system, have risen from $3.9 billion to $9.9 billion, with another $3.4 billion to be spent through 2013, according to congressional testimony. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is the systems integrator for the project.

Likewise, the Air Force's National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System has exceeded its costs by about 15 percent over the initial estimate of $6.8 billion.

This satellite system will supply military and civilian users with high-fidelity regional and global meteorological data about the oceans, land surfaces, atmosphere and space environment. Northrop Grumman is the project's team leader.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department started an overhaul of how programs are awarded and managed. For example, it won't begin a development contract until there is an established technical baseline, and all requirements are agreed to.

Among the technologies that the Defense Department is examining are satellites with laser optics to transport larger amounts of data over long distances, new global positioning technology, advanced infrared sensor and radar sensors and environmental monitoring sensors ? all in an effort to transmit real-time information to soldiers on the field or generals in the barracks in a timely manner.

Industry professionals said there is no quick fix for the department's cost overrun and schedule delay problems.

"It's going to take a long time to fix that problem," said J.P. Stevens, vice president of space systems at the Aerospace Industries Association. "The problem you have is that there are few companies bidding for very few projects, and they are forced to underbid to get their contracts. It's a kind of never-ending cycle."


Civilian agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are using satellite systems for weather and other commercial applications of space technologies.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman recently won $10 million contracts for the definition and risk reduction phase of the country's next generation weather satellite systems, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R system (GOES-R). The 30-year-old GOES program provides uninterrupted monitoring of meteorological conditions in the Western hemisphere.

Because of its limited budget, NASA often cooperates with the Defense Department in establishing space communications, Pollock said.

"The Air Force has a larger space budget than NASA, and it has behooved them to cooperate on things where they can," he said.

Cross-agency initiatives include:

  • Climate Change Science Program/Global Change Research Program (multiagency, but NASA is largest contributor)

  • National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (Air Force, NASA and NOAA)

  • Global Earth Observation System of Systems (multiagency)

  • Next-Generation Air Traffic Management Joint Program Office (DOD, FAA and NASA)

  • Next-Generation Internet (multiagency)

  • Joint Agency Commercial Imagery Evaluation program (multiagency)

Commercial companies report that the federal government is showing more interest in commercial satellite operations.

Jerry Quenneville, vice president of engineering at Space Data Corp., said that Congress and the Homeland Security Department have been paying more attention to commercial companies like his for alternative systems for establishing post-disaster communications in areas affected by hurricanes or forest fires.

The Chandler, Ariz., company makes commercial near-space balloons for communications transmissions. It has provided such capabilities to the Air Force and to state National Guard units in the southwestern United States, Quenneville said.

Disaster recovery is a big driver, he said.

"DHS, FEMA and Congress are very interested in seeing more action there so we don't have a recurrence of the things that clearly went wrong after the hurricanes," Quenneville said. "That's something we certainly would want to be involved in."

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at

Rapid Attack Identification, Detection and Reporting System Spiral Two

Description: This defensive system will aid in the detecting, reporting, identifying and classifying attacks against space assets.

Value: $1 billion

RFP date: October 2007

Orbital Deep Space Imager

Description: This system would have powerful sensors to supply detailed images of space objects to produce near-real time common operating pictures of space for space-control operations.

Value: $500 million

RFP date: October 2007

Space Based Space Surveillance System

Description: This system is a collection of optical sensing satellites to track and identify space forces in deep space to enable offensive and defensive operations.

Value: $700 million

RFP date: October 2006

Operationally Responsive Space: Tactical satellites (TacSats), launch vehicles, systems support structures

Description: The program seeks to complement current large space programs by enhancing space capabilities through the use of smaller, adaptable and expendable satellites.

Value: $1 billion-$2 billion request in fiscal year 2008

RFP date: TacSats RFPs at 12-18 month intervals


Mechanical Systems Engineering Services (MSES II)

Description: A follow-on small business set-aside contract for mechanical systems engineering services for Goddard Space Flight Center, including the design, development, integration, testing and operations of space flight and ground system hardware and software. This also includes the development and validation of new technologies to enable future science missions.

Value: $600 million, over five years to multiple contractors

RFP date: November

Award date: January 2006

Technology Engineering and Aerospace Mission Support Services (TEAMS)

Description: The services needed to support NASA's space flight and science mission include full-spectrum aerodynamics, gas and fluid dynamics, acoustics and aeroacoustics, metallic and non-metallic structures and materials and airborne systems and flight research.

Value: $285 million over five years

RFP date: June

Award date: December 2006

Test and Evaluation Services contract

Description: The White Sands Test Facility, which sets safety and structural requirements for new and existing launch facilities, requires test and evaluation services that include materials and components testing, propulsion testing, depot level repair of flight hardware and maintenance and repair of the test systems required for these activities.

Value: $250 million over three years, with two one-year options

RFP date: July

Award date: February 2006

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above.

What is your e-mail address?

My e-mail address is:

Do you have a password?

Forgot your password? Click here

Washington Technology Daily

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.


contracts DB