Aircraft carriers may be retired, and new-fangeled fighter forces may be slashed. But, in this year's budget, the Pentagon's plans for space are getting a $2 billion boost, according to Defense Daily.At the heart of these efforts in the Space Radar (SR) program -- an effort to build a constellation of 10 to 24 satellites by 2012 that would track everything below, from planes to tanks to individual people. Last year, Congress wiped out all but $75 million from the SR project, citing the program's outsized ambitions and underdeveloped technologies.But SR has been restructured into something more manageable, Defense Department officials promise. The Pentagon now wants to have a its first, full-sized SR satellite in orbit by 2015. In the short term, the Defense Department would launch one or two satellites about one-quarter the scale of a [final] system," Defense Daily notes. "The satellites would be used to prove the concepts of tracking moving ground targets from space, collaborating with airborne assets and downlinking data to both military and intelligence officials." The Pentagon now wants $226 million for SR this year, with an additional $4.2 billion earmarked through fiscal year 2011.The Defense Department budget also calls for nearly $11 billion over five years for the troubled Transformational Communications system, which uses lasers, instead of radio waves, to pass along data. Last year, Congress cut funding for that project by nearly $300 million. The Space Based Space Surveillance program, meant to keep watch over potential enemies in orbit, is scheduled to get $115 million next year. And the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, to build the next generation of rockets to take satellites into orbit, will get $864 million next year and $6 billion over the next five years. Initially, the Pentagon had planned to "rely on the commercial launch market to cover those costs, but the market has not flourished as expected," Inside Defense observes.In recent years, the Pentagon's space program has been teetering on the edge of disaster -- and sometimes falling off that cliff. A 2003 Defense Science Board report cited "systemic problems" with America's military space effort. "Cost has replaced mission success" as the "primary means" for evaluating new military space equipment, the report notes. And "low cost estimates throughout the acquisition process" have "lead to unrealistic budgets and unexecutable programs."Nevertheless, the Defense Department's spending on space continues to grow, as soldiers grow more reliant on satellites to guide their bombs, relay their messages, and find their enemies. "Space is a critical part of our warfighting priorities and I think the budget reflects that," a Pentagon official told reporters in a background briefing on the budget. "As a whole, I think space did very well."THERE'S MORE: The goal of the Pentagon's Transformational Communications -- to send messages in space via laser -- sounds cool. But major, major technical hurdles remain, Aviation Week notes.
Devising cryptographic gear for laser communications and handling the extremely high data rates of future systems will be a challenge... One decision developers may be forced into is whether to encrypt at all. The industry official points out that intercepting the narrow-beam laser communications in space would be extremely difficult for an adversary, as would intercepting a downlink...But encryption technology isn't the only area that may require attention. As microprocessors become faster and more compact, the Pentagon's goal of radiation-hardened equipment merely one generation behind the non-hardened commercial standard is becoming more elusive. As commercial processors become more compact and require more heat dissipation, developers of radiation-hardened equipment are struggling to provide proper shielding and still deliver the required performance in the limited space.