So far, the Air Force will not have to tap into fuel for on-orbit station-keeping or maneuvers to meet operators’ needs. “They may be willing to give up life to get there faster, and then there are some things we can do differently,” Madden says. Air Force Space Command chief Gen. Robert Kehler says the Milstar constellation “is still in good shape, [so] it doesn’t much trouble me that it will take a little bit longer to get to orbit.”
It is unclear how this will impact Lockheed Martin. The company is on a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, originally a $2.9-billion deal for the first two AEHF satellites and a ground system. Northrop Grumman is the primary payload provider. The contract was amended to include a third satellite and overruns incurred by poor government management in developing cryptographic equipment for the satellite. Cost was added, too, when a second round of thermal vacuum testing was required because a faulty set of reaction wheels was installed initially on the satellite. The contract’s current scope is estimated at $4.8 billion, but Lockheed Martin’s estimate at completion was $6.5 billion, before the recent in-orbit mishap.
Madden would not state a penalty amount. “There is nothing worse than beating someone up while they are helping you to try and fix a problem,” he says. “[Lockheed Martin officials] are in it with us, full stake. They have accountability to get it to orbit and make it fully operational.” USAF officials decline to identify the manufacturer of the LAE.
AEHF 2, which was to be launched in February, is undergoing testing at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, Calif., facility. It is not yet known how much of a delay, if any, to launch will occur.
A root-cause investigation is expected to be finished in two weeks. “We could have a bad valve in the system [or] the propulsion wasn’t being cooled or heated properly . . . or we could have a bad engine,” Madden says.