Shelved Triana Satellite Could Help Open Up Military Launch Market

A scientific satellite championed by Al Gore that has been grounded for eight years might finally see the light of space thanks to a military program to evaluate new rockets. Aviation Week reports:

Air Force officials are proposing in their fiscal 2012 budget plan to fund a launch of a NASA satellite to provide competition for potential new entrants to the rocket market.

The service is requesting $135 million in the fiscal 2012 budget, sent to Congress in February, to fund the competition for launching NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, says Maj. Gen. John Hyten, director of space programs for the Air Force’s acquisition office. The satellite, formerly known as Triana, was proposed by former Vice President Al Gore while in office to provide a near constant stare at Earth from geosynchronous orbit as well as other scientific data. It was pulled from the ill-fated 2003 Columbia Shuttle mission and shelved thereafter during the George W. Bush administration.

Though the satellite would provide scientific data to government users, it is not a critical payload; thus it is suitable for boost in a test launch that poses higher risk than other Pentagon launches.

Though the parameters for the competition have not yet been sorted out, Hyten says that the launch will be designed to demonstrate a variety of requirements. “They may have to do an upper stage coast, for example … That is a very important capability for us – getting into geosynchronous orbits,” he tells Aviation Week. “I would imagine it is going to be a fairly interesting launch.” The satellite was designed for it to operate with a continuous sun-lit view of Earth, which will require for it to be positioned at the Earth’s Lagrangian point roughly 932,000 mi. from the planet.

Wikipedia reports that NASA has been preparing the satellite for an eventual launch:

Triana was removed from its original launch opportunity on STS-107 (the ill-fated Columbia mission in 2003). The $100 million satellite remained in storage for the duration of the Bush administration. In November 2008 the satellite was removed from storage and began recertification for a possible launch on board a Delta II or a Falcon 9.  As of February 2011, the Obama administration is attempting to secure funding to re-purpose the DSCOVR spacecraft as a solar observatory to replace the aging Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft.

The Air Force is anxious to introduce competition for its large payloads, which are launched by United Launch Alliance. Prices for ULA’s rockets are rising, in part due to low production rates. Business Week reports that efforts are underway to broaden the military’s launch options:

The Air Force is working with NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office, which manages spy satellites, to develop common certification requirements for possible new entrants such as Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., and Orbital Sciences (ORB) of Dulles, Va. As NASA’s space shuttle program winds down, the Obama Administration is keen to develop private-sector alternatives to ferry astronauts and equipment to the International Space Station and for other missions….

The Air Force plans to bid out several launches, beginning with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite, scheduled for fiscal 2012, which begins on Oct. 1. The service would open bigger payloads to competition under the EELV program later this decade. “We have at least one player, perhaps more, who are saying, ‘We would like to compete for that business,'” says Conaton. “Our attitude is, ‘Show us what you can do.'”

ULA is taking steps to improve the cost and performance of its Atlas V and Delta IV. Those measures include the joint development of a new upper stage engine with XCOR Aerospace.