August 07, 2012
Editor's note: This story was originally published on September 6, 2010
The U.S. Air Force’s newest protected satellite communications spacecraft, worth more than $2 billion, will likely reach operational status 7-8 months later than planned after a liquid apogee engine failure.
This problem in orbit is the latest in a series that has plagued the Lockheed Martin-led Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite program. It also experienced cost overruns and is late because of problems with unreliable parts that needed changing out and delays developing cryptographic keys from the National Security Agency. The failure is a disappointment for the Air Force, which has struggled with management problems of its space programs.
The AEHF program was born out of an upper-stage mishap in 1999 that placed a Milstar satellite in the wrong orbit, rendering it useless. The program was thereupon quickly assembled to avoid a gap in protected communications, required for connectivity with nuclear weapon-equipped forces during a crippling attack.
The setback is another high-profile slip-up for Lockheed Martin, including a $600-million award fee withholding for poor performance in delivering test aircraft for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Last month, Missile Defense Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly also opted to withhold approval for production and acceptance of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system interceptors when a single part failed qualification testing.