CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 11 - To tackle a rising demand
for space-based surveillance in an era of flat budgets, the U.S.
military is looking at smaller satellites, cheaper rockets and
partnerships, the head of Air Force Space Command said on
"Status quo is just not going to work for us," General
William Shelton said in a speech to the National Space Club
Florida Committee in Cape Canaveral.
The Pentagon is requesting $496 billion for the 2015 fiscal
year that begins Oct. 1. The spending plan, which is essentially
flat for the third consecutive year, cancels two Lockheed Martin
Corp Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellites,
saving $2.1 billion, and defers two Lockheed next-generation
Global Positioning System satellites, among other cuts.
Shelton said the budget crunch comes as more countries have
the ability to access space, not all for peaceful purposes.
Eleven nations now have indigenous launch capabilities.
"There's a threat to our on-orbit assets. We know a lot of
nations out there are developing counter-space capabilities ...
It is scary what some nations are about now," Shelton said. A
less overt but more widespread threat comes from an increasing
amount of manmade debris circling Earth.
The Air Force currently is tracking about 23,000 objects
circling Earth, only about 1,000 of which are operational
spacecraft. The rest are defunct satellites, spent rocket
boosters and other space junk.
"An object that's maybe just 2 to 3 cm in size at orbital
velocity represents a hazard to fragile spacecraft," he said.
Concurrently, the Air Force is considering downsizing its
weather satellites and other spacecraft, placing sensors on
commercial satellites and partnering with other countries in an
attempt to cut costs.
The Air Force also intends to allow other companies to
compete for some of its satellite-launching business. Currently,
United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and
Boeing Co, launches nearly all of the U.S. military
spacecraft. Space Exploration Technologies, owned and operated
by Tesla Motors Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk,
is among the firms vying to break ULA's monopoly.
A series of studies on revamping the Air Force's space
programs is under way. Shelton expects the first reports this
"I personally believe that these alternative architectures,
which are much more responsive to the threat that we see coming
down ... is the direction we need to go. But we also need to
complete these studies to make sure," Shelton said.