August 17, 2012
The U.S. Air Force is considering Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Falcon rocket for future Global Positioning System (GPS) launches, according to Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan, director of requirements for Air Force Space Command.
During a presentation to the Space-based Positioning Navigation & Timing (PNT) national advisory board meeting in Arlington, Va., Aug. 14, Whelan also was asked by board members whether the service would consider triple launches of GPS satellites.
“Our friendly competitors are all doing triple launch,” said PNT board vice chair Bradford Parkinson. “Granted, our satellites are more complex, [but] nevertheless the economics are persuasive. Pressure on launch pads are persuasive. It would just cost a heck of a lot less.”
Board chairman James Schlesinger noted that the Chinese now have three satellites that are simultaneously launched on a single launch vehicle.
Whelan replied that dual launch is being explored for the fifth and sixth satellites in the next-generation GPS III constellation.
“We are trying to give ourselves options, whether it is single launch, dual launch ... or multiple launch,” Whelan said. The service also hopes that SpaceX will be able to provide multiple-launch capability in the future.
Whelan reminded the board that the Air Force is facing budget cuts over the next several years, which could be compounded by additional reductions under so-called budget sequestration.
Whelan added that some Capitol Hill lawmakers are pressuring the service to maintain competitive opportunities within the launch industry, which can make the multiple-launch strategy less attractive.
“We are not in the business of putting people out of business, that is certainly not our intent,” Whelan said.