Orbital Sciences champions smaller military satellites, new buying practices

A senior official of Orbital Sciences is worried that limited budgets and “old habits” will hamper the American government in its transition from bulky and expensive military satellites to smaller and simpler platforms.

Michael Hamel, the head of business development for Orbital Sciences, decried old habits such as cramming multiple missions onto a single, large satellite. Hamel believed this particular practice complicated construction, inflicted sizeable cost overruns, and caused significant launch delays. He similarly derided the U.S. government’s attempt to cut costs through “block buys,” the purchase of multiple satellites during a single order.

According to Hamel, big satellites are using up government funds that could be spent on smaller satellites that use new technologies. He pointed out that the new satellites can use cheaper and smaller commercial launchers, making for more savings.

Hamel believes the government must employ new buying practices that truly leverage the advantages of the commercial marketplace in order to properly invest in new satellite architectures and systems.

The Orbital Sciences official proposed that the government can just use the money allocated for a single, big military satellite to build five smaller, simpler satellites.

A disaggregated approach makes it easier and cheaper to acquire military and intelligence satellites. Furthermore, it would also be cheaper and easier to build and launch replacement platforms in case a satellite is taken down. This decreases the danger and damage that cyber attacks can potentially inflict on the U.S. government.

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