One of the space assets we have in New Mexico we don’t know much about is the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. On June 29th at 11pm, they launched ORS-1 satellite on a Minotaur 1 rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), part of the NASA Wallops Island facility in Virginia.
The ORS office in Albuquerque is part of the Space Missile Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate SMC/SD. Their job is to support the warfighter using space based platforms. Platforms can mean many things in the space business, but in this case, it means satellites.
We just celebrated our Independence Day. New Mexican has an important role to play in supporting our national defense. One of New Mexico’s unique capabilities is the ORS office. Our country relies on the Air Force to develop space based defensive capabilities. Unlike traditional development cycles in the military, ORS is tasked with designing, building, and launching satellites in short time frames. Using military satellites to support the men and women in the field requires rapid response capability not only from the people on the ground, but also from the assets in space. Moving satellites in space to respond to changes on the ground is not easy, cheap nor can it be done quickly in most cases. Yet, it is necessary.
ORS has been tasked with making satellites with capabilities unique to the soldiers needs, without conflicting with already successful strategies in place. Its tougher than we think to successfully bring new capabilities into quickly shifting battle conditions.
ORS-1 is the Operationally Responsive Space Office’s first operational prototype satellite designed to demonstrate the capability to meet emerging and persistent warfighter needs quickly. The Commander of the US Strategic Command, General Robert Kehler, recently spoke at a conference I attended in Lincoln, Nebraska. He wanted the audience to know, while focused on our national defense, he considered it important to emphasize, an economically strong nation is a secure nation. Therefore, his approach is to challenge and align the needs of our military to keep our country’s economic security a priority. That’s code for I won’t advocate for expensive equipment just because I can. ORS-1 is a good example of trying to find a new path in an economically challenging environment.
ORS-1 is the Operationally Responsive Space Office’s first operational prototype satellite and represents the potential of low-cost satellites designed to provide critical battlespace awareness capabilities to the joint warfighter. “Words cannot express how proud I am of the entire ORS-1 team,” said Colonel Carol Welsch, SMC/SD Acting Director and ORS-1 Mission Director. “The men and women of the Space Development and Test Directorate, the Operationally Responsive Space Office, and our industry partners of Goodrich, ATK, and Orbital have all worked tirelessly to move forward on the concept of a responsive space capability designed to support the warfighter. Their teamwork and dedication is simply inspiring.” Rapidly developing and fielding ORS-1 is an important step to demonstrating the possibilities to meet emerging and persistent warfighter needs. “Our team was able to develop, integrate, test and launch this system in just over 30 months which is a remarkable achievement,” said Colonel Welsch.
The contractors and the Air Force did what they said they’d do when I visited them. They said they would work with off-the-shelf equipment, use known hardware and sensors, collaborate with existing ground control capability, innovate constantly, and when possible, train the workforce to increase capability. This mission did all these things, including using the Air Force Academy in Colorado Spring. They designed a Virtual Mission Operations Center, to help plan the mission and related tasks so when the satellite was delivered to its proper orbit 12 minutes after launch, the ground was ready to start work.
I have visited the ORS folks many times, they are a lean team, smart and passionate. The ORS office is under constant pressure to perform under difficult deadlines and this first mission’s success was a must win. The team in New Mexico is led by Doctor Peter Wegner, who inspires great loyalty because he makes the challenge personal, each individual is important. Their budget is under constant threat, and when they succeed, no one really gets credit. So, this is a small thank you to all those men and women who worked on this team. Final note, ORS-1 was launched from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), a commercial launch facility on Wallops Island in Virginia. This is another cost cutting measure now possible in the space industry; MARS is owned by the State of Virginia.