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Last Hurrahs for T-Sat

The first details about what is happening inside one of the biggest programs marked for cancellation by Defense Secretary Gates are beginning to filter out. In the days after Gates announced its planned demise, Boeing and Lockheed Martin went through what may well be the last design reviews for the Transformational Satellite program.

A source familiar with the program told us that the attitude during the reviews was pretty "fatalistic," which would certainly not be in keeping with the approach many contractors are going to take to programs targeted by Gates. While some in industry talk about the secretary's speech last week helping things by clearing the air or introducing more stability into the fevered atmosphere surrounding the defense industry the last month or so, many defense industr6y types have been loading up for bear, preparing detailed lobbying campaigns and community outreach. But the Boeing and Lockheed teams were apparently resigned to the end of their program.

One source said, "everyone seems to figure that this was the last hurrah for the program." One data point -- the contracts for the Boeing and Lockheed efforts only run until July. In one worrying signal to the space defense industrial base, this source said many program employees "are definitely working on their resumes, but nobody's panicking."

Our source offered a detailed analysis of what may have led to Gates' decision to stop funding the $29 billion program. One of the biggest hammers to fall on T-Sat was the decision last year to go with what some called T-Sat light, which would have dropped the laser communications allowing two T-Sats to laze data to each other at very high speed. That appeared to leave congressional aides skeptical that T-Sat would provide a greatly increased capability at an acceptable level of risk. While eliminating the lasers reduced much of the technical risk, it also left the military wondering what it was getting that was so much better than the current AEHF satellite program. "Eliminating lasercom really knocked out the lion's share of the technical issues; although it also knocked out the primary reason for going to a completely new bus instead of an overgrown AEHF," our source said.

Another factor in killing the program was the decision at the beginning of the program to require use of a military standard bus, the structure into which the satellite is integrated. "Meeting the requirements for 1540E drove a lot of the design details for TSAT; it wasn't just a question of stuffing all the payload into the box," our source explains.

However, it remains to be seen what mix of capabilities the Pentagon will go with, in addition to the fifth AEHF Gates has committed to buy. Commercial satellite companies are eager for the business and will battle hard to win some of the T-Sat dollars.

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