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Teets: Space access vital to warfighting efforts

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A Delta IV rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. According to Peter B. Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, access to space is better than ever before, but increased reliance on space-based assets means the nation must look to the next generation of evolved expendable launch vehicles to replace current systems like the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets. (Courtesy photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A Delta IV rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. According to Peter B. Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, access to space is better than ever before, but increased reliance on space-based assets means the nation must look to the next generation of evolved expendable launch vehicles to replace current systems like the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON -- America needs to redouble its efforts to make sure the nation has a vigorous and successful national security space program, the Defense Department's executive agent for space said.

According to Peter B. Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, access to space is better than ever before, but increased reliance on space-based assets means the nation must look to the next generation of evolved expendable launch vehicles.

Currently, the nation uses two families of EELVs: the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.

"Both of these vehicles are more operationally responsive than any of their predecessors," Teets said. "The fact that we have two vehicles gives us assurance that, in the event of a failure in one, we'll be able to fly the other. That gives us some assured access (to space)."

The drawback to these EELVs, though, is the amount of time it takes to prepare them for launch. According to Teets, it can takes weeks, even months, to erect a launch vehicle, mate the spacecraft to the vehicle, fuel it and check the systems.

"With the importance of our space systems to warfighting, we need to minimize that timeline," he said.

To achieve that goal, the undersecretary said the nation must do two things: develop new, smaller, EELVs and work with NASA on shared technology.

"We're looking at bringing online some very operationally responsive, small EELVs that will be much lower-cost vehicles," he said. "They would be the kind of vehicle you could erect in a day, bolt on the spacecraft and load with fuel (from a) truck ... then launch in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months.

"There's also a need for us to work with NASA to put forth a technology roadmap that will allow us to see the way forward for reusable launch systems," he said.

The global positioning system satellites, space-based radar, the advanced extremely high frequency program and the space-based infrared systems are among the space-based systems that are integral to national security, Teets said.

GPS is a satellite constellation that orbits the Earth. The satellites emit signals that, when gathered and triangulated by receivers, provide near-exact location information.

The space-based radar will provide military commanders with surface moving-target indications and high-resolution terrain information.

The advanced extremely high frequency program provides protected satellite communications. The system provides up to 4,000 simultaneous networks and up to 6,000 users per satellite.

The space-based infrared system is a satellite constellation that will provide missile warning, technical intelligence and battle-space characterization.

"We do have assured access to space," Teets said, "but ... it's not assured access in a timeframe we'd like to have. We need to get ourselves on a path to have even more operationally responsive EELVs."

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