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SBIRS GEO-3 Engine Investigation Complete, Tracking Toward January 2017 Launch



LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- On Nov. 30, a joint government and industry team closed their investigation into a potential parts issue of a failed component from another contractor’s satellite. The investigation team performed an assessment to determine if a similar failure could be applicable to the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) Flight-3 Satellite Liquid Apogee Engine (LAE). The results concluded the SBIRS engine has no hardware defect and is flightworthy.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force program executive officer for Space, verified satellite integrity after successful delivery from Sunnyvale, California to Cape Canaveral, Florida; and approved fueling operations for GEO Flight 3 to take place Dec. 6-11.

The SBIRS GEO Flight-3 Satellite was scheduled to launch on Oct. 3 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. However, on Sept. 6, Lockheed Martin was notified by their supplier that the same type of LAE that was installed on SBIRS GEO Flight-3 had experienced an anomaly on a different, non-SBIRS satellite. As a result, satellite fueling and launch processing activities were delayed in order to perform a rigorous, eight-week investigation and assessment of another contractor’s failed component.

The investigation team employed a wide range of techniques to determine the health of the engine. This included performing an engine “hot fire” test on an LAE similar to the GEO Flight-3 LAE, inter-organizational sharing of historical on-orbit and in-factory data, and re-examining the original GEO Flight-3 LAE Acceptance Test Procedure data against newly developed criteria. In the end, it was determined that the SBIRS GEO Flight-3 engine exhibits nominal performance.

“The safety of our national security space assets is a top priority and the entire investigation team was thoroughly committed to getting this right,” said Greaves. “The investigation team used modern diagnostics to assess the health of the SBIRS GEO Flight-3 LAE, and we determined it does not exhibit any of the anomalous behavior experienced on the failed component from the non-SBIRS satellite.”

The GEO Flight-3 space vehicle was shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the Lockheed Martin satellite integration facility in Sunnyvale, California, on Aug. 2. With the investigation complete and the engine deemed flightworthy, SBIRS GEO Flight-3 is on track to launch on Jan. 19.

The SBIRS constellation is designed to replace the legacy Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite constellation. SBIRS will continue to provide significantly enhanced capabilities to support missile warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness and technical intelligence missions.